High school dropouts are costing some $1.8 billion in lost tax revenue every year, education advocates said in a report released Feb. 25.
If states were to increase their graduation rates, state and federal lawmakers could be plugging their budgets with workers’ taxes instead of furloughing teachers, closing drivers-license offices, and cutting unemployment benefits. While advocates tend to focus on the moral argument that all children deserve a high-quality education, they could just as easily look at budgets’ bottom lines.
“This has huge economic implications,” said John Bridgeland, president and CEO of Civic Enterprises, a public policy group that helped write the report.
That’s part of the reason Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Feb. 25 introduced a three-year, $15 million effort to put AmeriCorps members in 60 of the nation’s worst schools. About 650 AmeriCorps members are going to try to raise graduation rates, increase math and reading skills, and prepare more students for college.
“Turning around our nation’s lowest-performing schools is challenging work that requires everyone to play a part—from teachers, administrators, and counselors to business leaders, the philanthropic sector, and community members,” Duncan said.
Boosting graduation rates might be the most lasting way to turn around struggling budgets.
Some 24 state budgets are smaller than they were in 2008, and states are still clawing their way back to pre-recession levels, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.
Lawmakers in state capitols are making tough choices about whether to raise taxes to keep classroom lights on or to sell off state agencies to provide health care to seniors. Federal officials, meanwhile, are looking at some $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that are set to take hold at the end of the week—including cuts of nearly 8 percent to programs such as Title I, Head Start, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Take Colorado, where the state cut $4.7 million from its higher-education budgets between fiscal years 2012 and 2013, according to the budget officers’ annual report.
If 90 percent of students finished high school, state and local governments would have $4.1 million extra, the education advocates said. The state graduated 74 percent of its students on time in 2011.
Or Washington, where the state cut $17 million from its primary and secondary education budget, according to the budget officers. Had 90 percent of its students finished high school on time instead of 76 percent in 2011, state and local governments could be collecting $14 million more in taxes, the education advocates said.
(Next page: Some concerns with the report’s figures)