The U.S. economy could gain $83 billion within a decade if high schools nationwide went to a later 8:30 a.m. start time that lets teenagers get more sleep, according to a new study released Wednesday morning.
The RAND Corporation and RAND Europe calculated the economic benefits that would be produced from later school start times leading to more well-rested teens who avoid fatal car accidents, do well academically and get higher-paying jobs after graduation. Researchers at the global think tank said the economic gains outweigh the costs that schools would have for adjusting to later start times, such as buying more buses and changing bus schedules.
The study comes at a time when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that about 80 percent of U.S. high schools and middle schools start before 8:30 a.m. Groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics advocate later school start times because teenagers have a hard time falling asleep before 11 p.m.
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“Over time, more and more students will profit from getting more sleep,” Marco Hafner, a senior economist at RAND Europe, said in an interview Wednesday. “Less will die from car crashes. More will get better grades and go on to college. That will affect their future earnings.”
A UNC-Chapel Hill study from December found that the average high school start time in North Carolina was 8 a.m. The RAND study calculated that North Carolina’s economy could gain $2.5 billion within a decade by shifting to a uniform 8:30 a.m. start time.
“From an economic perspective, it’s pretty much an obvious thing to do,” Hafner said.
In the Triangle, high schools start as early as 7 a.m. in Johnston County and 7:10 a.m. in Wake County. They start as late as 8:45 a.m. in Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County and 9 a.m. in Durham. The sleep research had been cited by Durham school leaders for shifting high school from their previous 7:30 a.m. start times.
“Most people stay up late studying and stuff like that,” said Omar Stallings, a student at Broughton High School in Raleigh. “It would just be easier for students to wake up later.”
Wake school officials have cited the lack of buses and bus drivers for why they have to start high schools so early. High schools start first to give bus drivers enough time to transport teens to school before making later runs to pick up younger students.
Wake school board Chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler said any shift would require making sure the community is ready for it, including those parents who rely on high school students to come home first to take care of their younger siblings.
“There’s no small feat in Wake County,” she said. “Is it going to happen overnight for us? No, we’re a large district.”