One of the big question marks in the proposal to increase the minimum dropout age to 18 is how much it will cost to keep those students in school for two more years.
The problem starts with figuring out exactly how many dropouts we are talking about.
Officially, the dropout figure has been running around 6,000 students or so for some time. But, most researchers working with dropout data have little confidence in any state’s dropout reporting. Schools have no real inducement to report this accurately and obviously are happy with the lowest number possible. The fact that the dropouts are gone makes them difficult to impossible to track, which frustrates attempts to audit the situation.
There was an audit on the accuracy of Kentucky’s dropout rate reporting – way back in 2006.
No surprise to anyone doing research in the area, this now rather dated report found the state’s published dropout rates were considerably under-reporting the true situation.
I’d love to be able to use really recent data to do a better estimate of how much the Age 18 bill might cost, but I am finding some issues with the data on enrollment, dropouts, retentions and reported graduations for the Classes of 2010 and 2011. High-accuracy data is promised to us when the Class of 2013 graduates, but that is months away.
So, I am going to go with data I developed in a 2011 paper for the Class of 2009 as a way to get some sort of handle on what this legislation could cost. I wish I could use something more current, but that isn’t reasonable at this time.
If you look at Figure 1 in that 2011 paper, it shows that as the Class of 2009 wended its way through Kentucky’s public high schools, it accumulated a total of 6,272 officially reported dropouts.
However, in order to make the reported data for fall membership (enrollment), dropouts, retentions (students held back in the same grade at the end of the year) and total diplomas and certificates work out, there had to be an additional unreported loss of students summing 5,150 more students.
Now, other calculations found in the report show that some of those unknown 5,150 students were actually accounted for as 787 students who graduated early, in less than four years.
Put this all together, and I estimate we are talking about an extra 10,635 students who probably would have been retained in the school system if an Age 18 bill had been in place for this class.
The latest audited school finance data I have comes from the 2010-2011 Receipts and Expenditures Report (Excel) from the Kentucky Department of Education. That document says per pupil funding from local tax sources was $3,733. The state per pupil funding, which is mostly from SEEK, amounted to $4,442 per pupil. Finally, federal support averaged $1,935 per pupil.
If these kids remain in school, all those funding sources get zapped, not just state SEEK. It’s as if the Kentucky legislature can launch an unfunded mandate on both local school districts AND the US government!
For example, if the local tax dollars don’t track, locals risk a reduction in their SEEK dollars, for example. And, the feds are committed to support students in school, too.
So, let’s put all of this together.
As you can see, the increase in state funding is only part of what will happen to the taxpayer. Overall, taxpayers will have to have to cough up a pretty tidy sum – well over $100 million.
By the way, loading more than 10,000 students back into the system is probably going to burst the seams at some high schools. I don’t have a good handle on how to estimate that, but school facilities are not cheap.
Now, with all of this said, the expenditures would still be a good investment, IF IT WORKED! But, the research we’ve mentioned in a number of earlier blogs indicates this feel-good-for-adult-liberals idea that forces their will on unwilling kids doesn’t work. It just makes those kids more expensive dropouts at age 18 instead of age 16. It might even lead to more violence in school as these entrapped kids will be a lot older, a lot madder, and a lot more capable of causing mayhem.
What we really need to focus on here is how to re-engage these kids to make them want to stay. How can we re-fire their self-confidence and provide real hope they can get back on track. Just turning our schools into some sort of daytime stalag won’t do that. I want to see some imaginative programs that really work before we even think about going to simple coercion that apparently doesn’t function as intended.