Sunday, January 28, 2007

AUSTIN — One out of three Texas students don't graduate, and more students drop out than finish high school in the state's largest cities, according to education experts.

Statewide, more than 2.5 million students have dropped out of Texas high schools in the last 20 years, and each graduating class loses about 120,000 students from freshman year to senior year, according to the San Antonio-based Intercultural Development Research Association.

The research group says more than half of students in Texas' largest cities drop out. The dropout rate among blacks, Hispanics and low-income students is about 60 percent, according to the Center for Education at Rice University.

The statewide dropout rate is about 33 percent — or 20 points higher than what the Texas Education Agency reports.

Experts warn that the high dropout rate will lead to economic and social problems.

"If you live in a city like Dallas or Houston and half of your kids are not finishing high school, it's a social crisis," said Eileen Coppola, a researcher at Rice.

Dropouts are more likely to live in poverty, have health problems and end up in jail, Coppola said.

Dropouts on average earn about $9,200 per year less than high school graduates, said Frances Deviney, director for Texas Kids Count. That means dropouts give up about $900 million per year in wages.

The 2.5 million dropouts over the last 20 years represent $730 billion in lost revenue and costs for the state, Deviney said, citing a report from the research association.

"We have a huge problem," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said.

Last year, with the prodding of Dewhurst and state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, the state spent $275 per high school student for dropout prevention and college preparation programs.

But critics say the program is "not targeted for communities with the greatest need," said Albert Cortez, a director at the research association.

Dewhurst said he agrees that a more targeted effort is needed and plans to make it a priority during the legislative session.

"I want to focus on programs at your high-risk schools," Dewhurst said. "How do we keep those at-risk kids in school?"

Two Words - They Vote.



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