Gazette opinion: Cut dropout rate, fight crime at same time

2013-09-20T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Cut dropout rate, fight crime at same time The Billings Gazette
September 20, 2013 12:00 am

If just 5 percent of the 1,085 Montana boys who dropped out of school in 2012 had stayed to graduate, our state would already benefited financially from reduced crime and graduates earning higher wages than dropouts.

That’s the conclusion of study by the Alliance for Excellent Education, a national organization that advocates for federal policies to improve education.

“Saving Futures, Saving Dollars: The Impact of Education on Crime Reduction and Earnings,” focuses on males because their gender accounts for the majority of prison inmates.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 56 percent of federal inmates, 67 percent of state inmates and 69 percent of local jail inmates did not complete high school. More than 70 percent of Montana State Prison inmates dropped out of high school, according to a Department of Corrections report.

“Dropping out of high school does not automatically result in a life of crime, but high school dropouts are far more likely than high school graduates to be arrested or incarcerated,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education.

The alliance report reviewed previous research and estimated the impact from increasing the male high school graduation rate by just 5 percent. The savings projections are staggering: Nationally, $18.5 billion annually in savings related to reduction in crime, and $1.2 billion in additional earnings for men who got diplomas instead of dropping out.

The alliance report argues for school discipline that results in fewer suspensions and expulsions. Restorative justice policies, programs that support positive behavior as well as mental health and social work services are more effective than exclusionary punishment.

Struggling students need timely interventions that help them work up to grade level. Schools need to engage all students with courses that are both relevant and rigorous. Schools must have high-quality teachers and appropriate technology for students to learn.

Montana’s graduation rate increased from 82.2 percent in 2011 to 83.9 percent in 2013.

However, there are still about 1,800 students a year dropping out. We’ve got work to do for the sake of students, our economy and public safety. Communities across Montana, including Billings, have commenced graduation initiatives that deserve broad support. The box above lists some of the things Montana is doing to make graduation matter.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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