Drop out, pay up
It’s impossible to measure the personal loss when a kid drops out of school. But there’s no question the economic impacts are huge, too. Taxpayers could save $45 billion every year if the nation’s drop-out rate were cut in half, according to a new report headed up by respected education economist Henry Levin.
The average public savings for each new graduate: $127,000. For black males, who are most at risk of dropping out, the number is $186,500.
What does that mean closer to home? The Alliance for Excellent Education figures that Florida's economy could have benefited from an additional $24.7 billion in wages over time if the dropouts from the state's class of 2006 had instead earned their diplomas.
The Sunshine State has long had one of the worst graduation rates in the country. Under former Gov. Jeb Bush, it crept up as high as 71.9 percent, but fell back to 71 percent last year.
The Southern Regional Education Board, which includes Florida, issues similar dire forecasts. "All states and local school systems should be engaging in a number of strategies that can help more students succeed," SREB President Dave Spence said.
Key Florida lawmakers are taking up the charge. Rep. David Simmons, who heads the House Committee on 21st Century Competitiveness, met late yesterday with Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee chairman Don Gaetz to work out a plan to address the state's poor dropout rate.
"I proposed to Sen. Gaetz that we look at the concept of having every student that does fill out the declaration (to drop out) be mandatorily sent to a class that will include one year of vocational training," Simmons said. "I hope these students, after one year, if they get their vocational certificate, will be prepared to go out and do something in life."
Gaetz said he expected the House and Senate to have companion bills seeking to accomplish the same goals. The Senate version will focus on improving career and technical education, which he contends is a strong alternative to keep many underperforming kids in school. He ought to know, having created a successful career and technical institute program while superintendent of Okaloosa County.
"We have found in our experience that most of the dropouts are not dropping out because they can't do the work or because they don't have the intellectual ability to stay in school," Gaetz said. "Really, most of the students who dropped out of high school dropped out because they're bored out of their gourd."
- Ron Matus and Jeff Solochek, updated at 2:10 p.m.