Why a later start to the school day could pump $1 billion into Illinois' economy

If school districts throughout the state moved starting times to 8:30 a.m. so middle and high school students could sleep longer, Illinois' economy would gain $1 billion within five years, according to a study by the Rand Corp.

The state, along with others throughout the country, would benefit from fewer car crashes involving sleep-deprived adolescents, and from students performing better in school, going to college, and earning more in their careers, the study said.

The researchers said the gain to the nation would be $9.3 billion within two years if every state made the change, a figure that is comparable to the annual revenue of Major League Baseball. The gains would come in the form of increased productivity, more tax revenue and other factors, according to the researchers.

The nation's economy would grow $83 billion within a decade, the study said. For the same period, Illinois would gain $2 billion after covering the extra costs associated with later start times.

The Rand researchers looked state by state at the potential growth. Attention focused on starting times after the American Academy of Pediatrics said teens need more sleep and schools shouldn't start before 8:30 a.m. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised similar concerns.

In response to those studies, Barrington School District 220 changed the start time of its high school students to 8:30 a.m. Chicago Public Schools also considered changing start times, but didn't. The school district has a range of starting times with some beginning as early as 7:30 a.m. The school district declined to provide average starting times.

CDC data shows the average school starting time throughout the state of Illinois is 8:11 a.m., which means that the state on average has start times that are closer to the recommended 8:30 a.m. than much of the nation.

"Bravo for Illinois," said Rand researcher Wendy Troxel, although the average reflects some starting times that are easier on students than others. "We are paying for sleep deprivation and we can mitigate that."

Although Illinois wouldn't recover the extra costs of a later average starting time within the first couple of years of changes, after five years Illinois would be gaining a $1.56 return on every $1 spent on moving teen starting times to 8:30 a.m., according to Rand.

A Brookings Institution study estimates that it would cost an estimated $150 in extra spending per student to move the start times back. Those costs would stem from bus schedule changes. In addition, each school would incur an extra $110,000 on costs such as extra lighting, which schools need when staying open later in the day for extracurricular activities.

Another study by Fred Danner and Barbara Phillips in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine suggested that the car crash rate decreases by 16.5 percent due to an hour delay in school starting times. Other studies have linked sleep deprivation of adolescents with obesity, depression, and other problems, and shown that later starting times contribute to higher graduation rates.

gmarksjarvis@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @gailmarksjarvis

An earlier version of this story included an inaccurate start time for high school students in Barrington School District 220.

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