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Over at the Prichard Committee, they are pushing something called “Top 20 by 2020,” a plan to have Kentucky’s education system rank among the top 20 states in the nation by the year 2020. The latest shot was fired in Owensboro a couple of days ago, according to a news report, “Group maintains Top 20 education target,” in the March 6 Messenger (Owensboro – Subscription Required).
The newspaper reports that Prichard’s leader, Dr. Robert Sexton, says we can’t let the current economic situation get us off target. Bob wants to spend more money on education now, even if the economy is bleeding (which it clearly is).
But, let’s think about the Prichard plan and other things Prichard is saying.
There are only 50 states, so ranking in the top 20 means ranking just slightly above average – that’s all. And, of course, all of this depends on how you determine the rankings, which is why I bring this up.
Over at Prichard’s Blog, Susan Weston recently posted a comparison of how she sees Kentucky’s educational system ranking against the rest of the nation.
Susan claims Kentucky already ranks above average on science, poverty gaps, social studies, and arts.
She says we are “in line with the nation” on reading, writing, disability gaps, race gaps, high school completion and college entrance.
The only areas where we fall behind are math, college completion, and degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Often called STEM).
If we accept Susan’s rankings as accurate, it looks like we basically are already about where Sexton wants us to be in 2020.
Where is the challenge in that?
Gov. Steve Beshear issued a statement Thursday night expressing his pleasure that Kentucky is about to pick up another $400 million in debt as part of the new road plan.
Not to worry, though. Our “financial experts” are “comfortable.”
“This plan also creates a state stimulus effort through the use of a $400 million bond issue. This newly available debt capacity, added to the federal stimulus money, allows us to invest in projects with long-term benefits for the commonwealth. Our financial experts have carefully analyzed this bond issue and are comfortable with the debt capacity limits.”
He probably doesn’t want any questions about our pre-existing debt problems, either.
— 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.
Forcing would-be high school dropouts to stay in school would make sense if any evidence suggested it would magically create positive educational outcomes.
No such evidence exists.
But that won’t stop The Louisville Courier-Journal. A Thursday editorial said:
“Raising the dropout age might cost $15 million per year, but, as the Governor himself has argued, government gets that money back many times over, from an educated workforce. And the way to save on housing tomorrow’s prisoners is to keep them in school today.”
The idea that spending $15 million a year holding teenagers against their will adds anything to the goal of gaining an “educated workforce” is completely ridiculous.
Rep. Brent Yonts, the sponsor of the bill in question, should perhaps call us back when he figures out a way to force high school dropouts to get engineering degrees.
President Barack Obama’s Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes spoke to reporters this morning via conference call about Obama’s health care reform proposal in which he seeks to expand insurance coverage and government coverage while also lowering costs.
A reporter asked her how this plan would be different than the state attempts to do the same thing, which all have resulted in disaster.
Her answer, essentially, was that states like Massachusetts always said that for their expanded government scheme to really work it would have to be done at the federal level.
I kid you not.
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