— Costs to keep current dropouts in school to age 18 could be enormous
David already commented on the Courier-Journal’s opinion piece on pending legislation to raise the minimum school dropout age to 18, but I want to add a bit about the potential costs of this plan. Even a simple analysis indicates the taxpayer could pay a lot more than anything we are hearing from Frankfort.
Based on the latest Nonacademic Report from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), a total of 6,175 students dropped out in the 2006-07 school year. As the bill eventually takes complete effect, virtually all of these would remain in school until age 18. We also know the official KDE dropout numbers are low by at least 30 percent thanks to an official audit in 2006.
So, in round figures, we will probably add an extra 8,000 students to school enrollment once the age 18 provision kicks in.
Now, schools are mostly reimbursed based on average daily attendance (ADA). Because KDE reports attendance rates in the low to mid-90 percent range, let’s call the ADA increase do to the age 18 dropout bill about 7,200 minimum (it will probably be higher, as the dropouts are under-reported by a lot more than 30 percent).
The latest KDE Receipts and Expenditures report I have is for the 2007-08 school year. It shows total per-pupil expenditures from all sources, local, state, and federal were $9,427. I’m going to assume the federal government will fund most of this on an ADA basis just like we do with state money, so very crudely I would estimate the total cost for current expenses alone would be $9,427/pupil times 7,200 more pupils, or around $67.9 million.
We have to house these additional students. I found a construction estimate in the KDE Web site for classroom additions to the Williamstown High School. Three standard classrooms will cost $516,176, and a science lab will cost $372,794. There are other construction items listed as well, but let’s just start with these. Assuming a standard high school classroom or science lab can accommodate 25 students, we can accommodate an additional 100 students at a cost of 888,970, or 8,889.70 per added student. Multiply that by the 7,200 more students we need to serve, and a bare bottom construction cost is going to be on the order of $64 million.
So, a rough cost to get age 18 dropouts up and running is on the order of $131 million with continuing operating costs of well above $67 million (you have to heat, cool, and maintain all that extra square footage, too).
Most of that cost will have to be borne by Kentucky taxpayers (even some of the federal part, though we do get back more than we contribute to Washington).
All that said, if we could really turn these kids around and get them out the door with better educations, the savings in reduced prison support and increased income from higher tax revenues would probably more than offset the costs even without considering the much more important moral issues.
I have not seen any research on diploma award rates in states that went to age 18. If these kids just spend two more years as mental dropouts, their physical location won’t matter much.
In any event, there is no question that Kentucky has a serious dropout problem, more serious than the official numbers admit. I am not convinced that a simple age 18 dropout rule is going to help that, but I am quite certain that the costs to keep them in school will be considerable.