Monday, September 22, 2008

The high cost of high school dropouts

Our view: Maryland loses millions of dollars a year when kids leave school without graduating

September 21, 2008

Last year, about 27,000 Maryland high school students dropped out of school before graduating. That was nearly a quarter of the state's Class of 2007, and Marylanders pay dearly for it. A study by the Maryland Public Policy Institute estimates that each class of high school dropouts costs the state about $50 million every year in lost tax revenues, higher Medicaid costs and the expenses of incarceration - dropouts are twice as likely as graduates to spend time in jail. Kids who drop out shortchange not only their own chances for success but also those of everyone around them.

That's why Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso has ordered high school principals to make every effort to get students who have dropped out back into the classroom. Baltimore's dropout rate, which has been estimated at between 40 percent and 60 percent, is among the highest in the state. More than 900 students have dropped out so f ar this year. There's no way a school system can ignore those numbers and call itself successful.

Mr. Alonso wants principals to track down every student who has left school and contact him or her at least three times, by phone or through personal visits, to try and lure the student back. That's a tough assignment for administrators whose hands during the first month of classes are already full just managing the students they have; in some schools, as many as a 100 kids have gone missing. But nobody ever said the kinds of changes Baltimore needs would come easy.

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