Bright Futures? Florida’s High School Graduation Rate is 50%

“Dropouts from the class of 2008 will cost Florida almost $25.3 billion in lost wages over their lifetimes.”  Alliance for Excellent Education

As our dropout rate continues to grow, that number is compounded every year. Sadly, it isn’t until we clearly tie our enormous economic loss to our soaring high school dropout rate that it starts to sink in just exactly what’s at stake here in Florida. You’d think that watching half of our kids, who start out optimistic and ready to achieve, become disillusioned and hopeless by 4th grade, would rocket our state into making education excellence a priority. No. For years we’ve tried to educate our legislators and business leaders about the enormous economic impact of our high dropout rate. The human toll always takes a back seat.

Recently, Florida’s Revenue Estimating Conference forecasted a short fall of $147 million, which was less than anticipated. Not mentioned: the Federal Stimulus money is the only thing separating our state from where we are and where we could have been. There is no plan beyond this money. The state offers only the “assumption that the extreme financial and economic stress that began nearly a year ago will improve by late spring of 2010,” according to Amy Baker, the Florida Legislature’s chief economist.

Here’s a way to create revenue: Cutting the number of dropouts in half would generate $45 billion annually in new tax revenue, according to America’s Promise. The Wall Street Journal recently quoted Marguerite Kondracke, CEO of America’s Promise, who called dropouts, “our next class of nonperforming assets.” Kondracke also says that nationally, each year dropouts represent $320 Billion in lost lifetime earning potential.

According to the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University, the difference in lifetime salary for a dropout and a high school graduate is about $300,000. Further, the loss of income from a college dropout approaches $1M.

In 2007, there were about 423,529 dropouts in Florida.  If these kids had just stayed in school and earned their high school diploma, their lifetime earnings would have been $12.7 Billion.

There have been indications of the level of this crisis for years. This problem is much bigger than finding a funding source for public education. This is about philosophy. It’s important for everyone in this state to think about how we have lived a deferred life. Florida runs on a policy that depends on a windfall the following year to pay for what we are doing today. For the past three years our state’s growth has held steady at zero.

Although, there is no simple fix to this problem, one thing is certain: our teachers are doing the very best they can under the circumstances. The achievements of half of our students cannot be ignored. Teachers, students and administrators have made remarkable gains with less than two thirds of the national per pupil spending average of $10,000 and have tried to rise and meet every and all challenges put before them. It is this ‘can-do” spirit that gives lawmakers the false impression that they can continue to cut, because these teachers prove that they can do more with less every time.

That view is perhaps the biggest injustice of all. Repeated cuts have caused half of our students to fail. Teachers work miracles, to be sure. However, saving and redirecting half of the students in the state require programs and funding. Public education in Florida is half-funded. Being quiet while our lawmakers repeatedly pass unfunded mandates, refuse to fund the class-size constitutional amendment, add high-stakes testing, expect AYP without supporting it and deny the economic impact of letting our kids fail has sent the message that we approve of this approach and has helped drive us to our current crisis.

Clearly, the situation in Florida is filled with persistent inequality, has left us extremely vulnerable and is overwhelmingly unsustainable. Our job is to dig deep, analyze our problem, understand tax reform inside and out and devise a plan. This is our state; these are our kids. In a democracy, under-represented constituents have the ability to make their own case. The greatest socio-economic equalizer the world has ever known is education.

Our kids deserve a public education system geared toward excellence that prepares them for global competition. The economic future of our state depends on making the transition from cheap and easy to setting a new standard of rigor and quality.

NOTE: This is the first in a series of three alerts that will look at Florida’s Drop out crisis.

Next: Why Do Students Dropout?

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Author: fundeducationnow

Fund Education Now.org is permanent grass roots, non-partisan group created by parents to inspire and empower voters to advocate on behalf of Florida's children. We believe that Florida's public education crisis is about more than money. Parents, long silent on this subject, must now stand up and lead the discussion and clearly articulate what we, the end-users of public education, want and expect for our kids and our state.

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