Later School Start Times Would Bring Billions in Economic Benefits, Study Finds

Published October 6, 2017

“Using a novel macroeconomic modelling approach, the study estimates changes in the economic performance of 47 U.S. states following a delayed school start time, which includes the benefits of higher academic performance of students and reduced car crash rates,” the RAND Corporation reports in “Later school start times in the U.S.: An economic analysis.”

“The benefit-cost projections of this study suggest that delaying school start times is a cost-effective, population-level strategy which could have a significant impact on public health and the U.S. economy,” the study states. “From a policy perspective, the study’s findings demonstrate the significant economic gains resulting from the delay in school start times over a relatively short period of time following the adoption of the policy change.”

Billions of Dollars Every Year

“The study suggested that the benefits of later start times far out-weigh the immediate costs,” the report, published in August by the RAND Corporation, further states. “Even after just two years, the study projects an economic gain of $8.6 billion to the U.S. economy, which would already outweigh the costs per student from delaying school start times to 8:30 a.m. After a decade, the study showed that delaying schools start times would contribute $83 billion to the U.S. economy, with this increasing to $140 billion after 15 years. During the 15-year period examined by the study, the average annual gain to the U.S. economy would about $9.3 billion each year.”

Importance of Sleep

Wendy Troxel, a senior behavioral and social scientist at RAND and a coauthor of the report, says the study found later start times would avert many accidental deaths.

“The study’s novel macroeconomic [approach] focused specifically on the impact of extra sleep among teenagers from later school start times across two key areas,” Troxel said. “[This included] the academic and professional performance of students and reduced car crash rates among adolescents. The impact of car crashes and young adults dying prematurely has a negative impact on the future labor supply of an economy.”

Nationwide Policy Interest

Troxel says many states are considering mandating later school start times.

“Numerous states are currently considering or have considered legislation for later start times, including California, Maine, Rhode Island, Nevada, and Utah,” Troxel said. “Several other states have bills proposed to evaluate the impact of school start times.”

Objections Likely

Terry Stoops, vice president for research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, says there might be much opposition to proposals to mandate later starts.

“There are four primary objections to statewide changes to school start times,” Stoops said. “First, in most states, statewide mandates tend to be unpopular among school districts because they value schedule flexibility. Second, the change would require districts to absorb transportation costs associated with fewer morning and evening runs and possibly additional infrastructure costs needed to accommodate after-school activities, particularly athletics. Third, a change in the start time may be unworkable, and hence unpopular, for parents and guardians who have early morning work commitments. Finally, students may find that the later dismissal time limits after-school employment opportunities.”

Stoops says individual districts probably won’t take kindly to a statewide mandate.

“It is unlikely that school districts, which are accustomed to schedule flexibility, will welcome state legislative efforts to impose uniform start time requirements,” Stoops said.

Questions the Estimates

Stoops says the full benefits claimed in the report are unlikely to materialize.

“The economic benefits cited in the RAND report are somewhat overstated,” Stoops said. “After all, the immediate and uniform implementation of a school start time change in 47 states is improbable. Instead, start time changes—like most reforms in the district system—will be unevenly distributed across schools, districts, and states. This will dilute much of the economic impact that such a change may produce.

“Because of their potential to be broadly disruptive, schedule changes are among the least popular types of school reform,” Stoops said. “Any change, regardless of the academic, economic, and public safety benefits, will require buy-in from those affected most, namely school staff, students, and families.”

Prefers Choice, Flexibility

Stoops says schools of choice, those that are not traditional government schools and therefore subject to fewer bureaucratic mandates, are freer to adapt to families’ needs.

While many conventional school districts enjoy schedule flexibility, schools of choice rarely need approval from legislative committees, distant bureaucracies, or oversight boards to make a change,” Stoops said. “Instead, school leaders can establish the start time that meets the needs of children and their parents.

“In other words, change is easier in the school choice environment,” Stoops said.

Tori Hart ([email protected]) writes from Wilmette, Illinois.


Marco Hafner, Martin Stepanek, and Wendy M. Troxel, “Later school start times in the U.S.: An economic analysis,” The RAND Corporation, August 2017: