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Dropping out is costly

Friday, April 21, 2006

The drop-out rate is a statistic that area high schools pay a lot of attention to, as they should. Not only is this statistic a factor used to assess the health of a school district, but it also has a tremendous effect on taxpayers, according to a new study conducted by economist Brian Gottlob of PolEcon Research.

Dropping out of high school not only affects the individual student but has a ripple effect on the state and local economy as well. According to this study released by the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, one year's class of dropouts in Missouri will cost the state approximately $71 million every year over their lifetimes. This study concludes that the unemployment rate for dropouts is 20 percent, that dropouts are twice as likely to go to prison and dropouts earn an average of $10,000 less than high school graduates. In Missouri, an estimated 17,000 students fail to graduate each year, costing the state about $4,000 per dropout annually.

Other key findings listed in the study were as follows:

• The total loss of earnings in 2004 of all dropouts, age 20 to 64, was $3.1 billion.

• The additional Medicaid costs attributable to dropouts (compared to the cost if they had graduated) is $234 million per year.

If anyone doubts dropping out is a poor choice, they only need to read this study to understand the personal and social ramifications of leaving high school prior to graduation. The days of being able to find a high-paying manufacturing job are numbered. These jobs are being shipped out of the country, and more and more of jobs in the United States require high school and college degrees. Career advancement is also limited for an individual who has not completed high school and is narrowing for those who have not pursued technical training or a college degree after high school.

The information published in the study is very interesting, but the foundation's claim that the study supports school vouchers is off-base. Instead of pushing for legislation that will strengthen private schools, our elected representatives and educational leaders need to continue to search and find ways to bolster our public education system. It doesn't seem right to offer more tax incentives to those who can already afford to send their children to private schools. The thought that vouchers would somehow help the inner city student who is forced to attend failing city schools is ludicrous. Vouchers only weaken the public school system and assist the more privileged of our society.

Here in Barry County, public schools have been focusing efforts to decrease drop-out rates, and many have been very successful. Cassville's drop-out rate has decreased from 5.6 percent in 1997-98 to 3.3 percent last year. It would be nice if public school funding would be increased to such a level that the R-IV School District could reinstate its Alternative School, which was also used by neighboring districts. State funding cuts forced the suspension of this successful program, and we'd like our state representatives to look into legislation that would provide some type of funding for these alternative educational sites, which serve a portion of the student population that are at risk for dropping out of school. By the way, the Alternative School was started through a grant written by Richard Asbill, Southwest superintendent who will be returning to the administrative ranks at Cassville next year.