Making sure local schools are preparing students to succeed in today’s global economy is the single best thing we can do to create jobs. And at a time when Democrats and Republicans in Washington can’t seem to agree on a lot, mayors across the country are working together from both sides of the aisle to improve educational outcomes at the local level more than ever before.
Cities have an incredible stake in what our children learn. Ask their mayors, and they’ll tell you the first questions they hear from companies trying to recruit employees are: How skilled is the workforce? How good are your local schools?
In response, many mayors have committed to improving education as a top priority. The U.S. Conference of Mayors’ committee on jobs, education, and the workforce recently highlighted the work of many of our colleagues who have offered innovative solutions and leadership to improve their cities’ schools.
But in some communities, education has not been seen as a mayoral issue. That is certainly the case in our home state of Arizona, where we both serve as mayors and where education is not traditionally viewed as an issue within the municipal wheelhouse. But mayors from across the state, Democrats and Republicans alike, have come together to take action because the consequences to our cities of failing to improve our education systems are severe.
According to a 2014 report by the Arizona Mayors Education Roundtable, of which we are both members, the state stands to lose up to $7.6 billion each year in decreased earnings and increased spending on health, crime, and public assistance as a result of our current high school dropout rate. In the cities we lead, Phoenix and Mesa, we stand to suffer economic losses of $1.4 billion and $516 million, respectively, per graduating high school cohort. These losses are dwarfed by those related to the state’s estimated 183,200 disconnected youths, the 16- to 24-year-olds who are not actively involved in either school or work, who will cost Arizona more than $127 billion over their lifetimes.
Mayors play a crucial but often overlooked role in improving our education systems. A mayor’s influence in the community can help reshape the way all of us approach education policy and initiate change that leads to improved education outcomes. By using their ability to convene a broad range of effective stakeholders, mayors can facilitate the important communitywide conversations about education challenges and solutions that empower their districts to pursue effective strategies for reform.
We believe it’s time for all mayors to place education front and center."
In Mesa, for example, after sobering conversations with local superintendents that described a growing skills gap among its youngest learners, the mayor’s office convened an Early Childhood Education Task Force. The task force, made up of 13 community leaders and early-childhood-education experts, is taking a hard look at the data on early education and the impact it has on a robust workforce. In the coming months, this task force will offer a final report with proposed solutions detailing how the community—both public and private sectors—can work together to close the gaps and ensure that all of Mesa’s kids arrive to kindergarten ready to learn.
And, through a bipartisan effort of the Arizona Mayors Education Roundtable, 16 mayors from cities large and small across the state are working together to improve high school graduation rates and reduce the number of disconnected youths in our cities. Along with our fellow mayors, we are bringing together key partners, including business and education leaders, to create local action plans that keep education policy and practice responsive to the specific needs of schools and students in the community.
Both of us have seen the difference committed and active mayors can make through drawing attention and resources to improve education in their cities. But this type of work isn’t happening everywhere. We believe it’s time for all mayors to place education front and center if we want to make sustained improvements to our communities for the sake of our kids and our constituents, even in communities where mayors have not traditionally been involved in education issues. We hope that Arizona’s bipartisan mayoral collaboration could serve as a national model to address our most important education issues.
As mayors, we have the bully pulpit. We can use it not only to draw attention to the importance of education, but also to mobilize a diverse set of stakeholders, from both sides of the aisle, to enact meaningful and long-term improvements to our schools. Together, we can strengthen our schools, our cities, and our economy.
A version of this article appeared in the September 21, 2016 edition of Education Week as Mayors Have a Role in Improving Education