Adding Up the Costs of Dropping Out

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The laws of probability allow even a blind hen to occasionally find a kernel, and the right-wing Cascade Policy Institute to occasionally produce a valuable piece of research.

The institute has come out with a study titled “Oregon’s High School Dropouts: Examining the Economic and Social Costs” that lays out some startling and disturbing facts about the heavy toll the state pays because as many as one-third of its high school seniors fail to graduate.

Among other things, the study found that:

  • The unemployment rate of high school dropouts in Oregon is roughly twice that of high school graduates.
  • On average, dropouts earn $10,000 less per year than high school graduates and far less than college graduates. Their lower earning power translates into about $173 million in lost state income tax revenue per year.
  • More than 40% of high school dropouts receive Medicaid benefits, costing the state another $200 million a year.
  • High school dropouts are twice as likely to be incarcerated as graduates. If the high school graduation rate was 100% the state’s prison population could be cut in half.

The study was authored by Emily House and released jointly by Cascade Policy Institute and the Foundation for Educational Choice, an organization originally established in 1996 by conservative economist Milton Friedman and his wife Rose “to pro­mote school choice as the most effective and equitable way to improve the quality of K-12 education in America.”

The report itself makes no specific suggestions for lowering the dropout rate, though considering the ideology of its sponsors it’s pretty easy to guess that if it did make any they’d involve “school choice” – i.e., vouchers.

But you don’t have to agree with the prescription to be alarmed by the diagnosis – and to understand that Oregon urgently needs to come up with a cure.


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