News Herald – Juliann Talkington
Even though Panama City, Florida has more police per capita than Detroit and Memphis, the law enforcement presence has done little to deter criminal activity. Panama City is now the fourth most dangerous city in Florida.
With beautiful beaches, many outdoor activities, and a temperate climate one has to wonder why the crime rate is out of line with cities of similar size.
Part of the problem is low academic achievement. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice there is a link between high school graduation and crime – 56 percent of federal inmates, 67 percent of the inmates in state prisons, and 69 percent of the inmates in local jails did not complete high school.
In Bay County, Florida, over one quarter (27%) of the students do not graduate from high school. This is well above the national (20%) and state (24%) averages.
Given the graduation/incarceration link, the best way to stop crime in Panama City might be to improve academic achievement.
Some people argue that the low graduation rate in Bay County is due to insufficient funding. However the per student spending in Bay County is almost the same as per student spending in Nassau County, the Florida county with the highest graduation rate (almost 91%).
Others worry that poor student performance is due to a high student/teacher ratio. However, Bay County has a student/ teacher ratio of 16.1 students per teacher. Nassau has a slightly higher student/teacher ratio, 16.7 students/teacher.
Also, Nassau County has about the same percentage of the population with college degrees and the two counties have close to the same percentage of the population below the poverty line.
So what are the real issues?
First, Panama City has few high paying jobs so there is little incentive for students to complete high school. To make matters more challenging, many companies that offer high quality and high tech jobs close operations in Panama City, because they cannot find dedicated, reliable, skilled workers.
To bring high quality employment options to Bay County and keep them here, schools must set high standards so students are ready for high quality 21st Century employment (strong language arts, math, and science skills).
In addition, schools need to identify deficiencies and begin remediation early, so students do not leave school.
To achieve these educational goals, schools must reward high quality teachers who have outstanding subject area proficiency in math, science, and language arts.
With a better-educated populace, Panama City can become a safer and more desirable place to live.