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Dropouts Are Putting a Major Strain on Our Economy

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Despite all the efforts of every president from Kennedy to Obama, kids not completing their high school education are a blight on our society. According to DoSomething.org, every year, over 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States alone. This comes to 7,000 kids a day dropping out. Twenty five percent of high school freshmen fail to graduate on time. The U.S., which in 1970 had had the world's highest graduation rates of any developed country, now ranks 22 out of 27 countries in the developed world. Two thousand high schools across this country graduate fewer than 60% of their students. In the U.S., high school dropouts commit 75% of our crimes.

The unemployment rate for dropouts is 9.1%, for those with high school diplomas it's 5.8% and with college degrees, 3.3%. The average high school dropout earns $20,240 annually versus $30,600 for a high school graduate. According to The New York Times, if we could reduce the number of dropouts by a little over half, this would yield close to 700,000 new high school graduates each year. These 700,000 new graduates a year would obtain a higher rate of employment and earnings and would be less likely to draw on public money for health care and welfare and less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system. And because of the increase in income, these 700,000 graduates each year would contribute more in tax revenues. Each of these graduates over their lifetime produces a net benefit to taxpayers of $127,000 in government savings. This would benefit the public close to $90 billion each year, which turns into $1 trillion after 11 years. That is serious money and an easy issue that both Democrats and Republicans can rally behind to reduce our deficit while supporting funding for education.

Throughout the years, all of our leaders have made attempts to reduce the dropout rate through improving our educational system. Kennedy hastened school desegregation to integrate public schools to give all kids the hope of a better education. Johnson established Head Start so all kids would have a chance to start on equal footing. Carter upgraded the Department of Education to cabinet level status. Clinton passed the "Goals 2000 Educate America Act," which gave resources to states and communities to enact outcomes-based education with the theory that students will reach higher levels of achievement when more is expected of them. George W. Bush passed the "No Child Left behind Act," which worked to close the gap between rich and poor students by targeting more federal funding to low-income schools. And Obama passed the $4.35 Billion "Race to the Top" legislation which has competitive grants supporting education reform and innovations in classrooms. Yet, we still have 1.2 million students dropping out of high school each year...

In my own state, from a new report by our mayors, according to the Arizona Republic, the 18,000 high-school dropouts this year will cost Arizona $7.6 billion over their lifetime. Phoenix, the country's sixth largest city, in 2012 had the highest rate of youth disconnection among the country's 25 largest metro areas with 24% of its students dropping out of high school. Our mayors say this year's dropouts will cost Arizona $4.9 billion in lost income, $869 million in health costs, $1.7 billion in crime-related expenses and $26 million in welfare over their lifetime. On top of all this, statewide, 22% of youth 16-24 years old are not working or not in school, which is 182,000 young people.

The societal impact of our kids dropping out of school is devastating. Our schools know early on when many of these kids are in trouble. Key indicators include poor grades in core subjects, low attendance rates, failure to be promoted to the next grade and disengagement in the classrooms which would also include behavioral problems. So to save these kids, we have to start early. Our government needs to invest in early childhood education. When students enter school without the needed knowledge and skills, they begin behind and just never catch up. Early childhood programs need to support the emotional, cognitive and social development of kids.

So what should our schools do to curb this enormous economic problem? Because many dropouts feel alienated from others and disconnected from the school experience, schools must ensure that all students have meaningful relationships with adults while at school. This obviously includes teachers and administrators, but should include counselors, volunteers and more paid and unpaid mentors. Schools must have individualized learning sessions and non-traditional options. These options may include online learning and intensive tutoring programs. Also, students with disabilities, who are twice as likely to dropout as students with no disabilities, must be offered greater personalization programs from k-12.

This is truly a grassroots effort in each community to lower our dropout rates. There are national programs to help on the local level. Communities in Schools is an organization that has been around for 30 years that helps bring community resources inside public schools, providing resources for at risk kids to succeed in the classroom and in life. The Boys & Girls Clubs of America provide programs, services and a safe place to learn and grow and connect with adults. And at DollarDays through our Facebook page, we are giving away $5,000 worth of products schools can use, so please nominate a school that deserves our help.

Dropouts cause our society emotional pain, because we all feel sorry for those less fortunate and struggling to survive. But the cold hard facts are they cause us economic pain that could be avoided once we admit, like the mayors of Arizona, that our dropout rate has an economic impact that we can't ignore any longer. We have got to get our schools the resources to go at this problem head on. Maybe if we approach our current Congressional leaders that this is an economics problem, not a school funding issue, we can finally get their attention...