It may seem like a far-off problem: students in Washington D.C. public schools losing scholarship funds seems like small potatoes when Missouri has enough education challenges to concern itself with. But there are several reasons why this issue is important to watch:
We live in a mobile society. The problems of the District of Columbia don’t stay isolated within district boundaries: children who drop out are more likely to be convicted of a crime and more likely to go through periods of unemployed. The reverse is also true: everyone benefits from a graduate. High school graduates will earn more, enjoy more security, and contribute more to society and the economy. D.C. grads that come to work in Missouri will provide higher tax receipts and be more productive than their counterparts who didn’t graduate.
According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, the lifetime economic loss from class of ’07 students who dropped out is a staggering $329 billion. High School dropouts are 3.5 times more likely to be incarcerated than graduates. The American Youth Policy Forum states that even graduating 1% more men aged 20-60 would save the U.S. $1.4 billion a year in reduced costs associated with crime. High School dropouts contribute half as much in state and federal taxes as graduates. Victor Hugo said, “Whenever you close a school, you open a prison,” but it seems that the reality is far worse than even that desperate scenario.
On the other hand, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship is responsible for significant gains in reading levels. Voucher recipients across the country are testing better, making more significant gains than public school counterparts, and a report by John Robert Warren at the University of Minnesota showed that the proportion of voucher students in Milwaukee graduating rose from 62 to 85 percent from 2003 to 2007, compared to public school graduation rates increasing from 49 to 58 percent.
D.C. Scholarships are a shining example of the education reform states are being asked to pursue: a tested, successful innovation that was able to show student gains for a fraction of the cost of per-pupil spending in the public district. It’s also the school district at the heart of our federal government: as we’re looking to D.C. for leadership, we’d hope to see successful reforms emanating from D.C. Instead, Congress has pulled funding pending reauthorization.
Missouri can’t operate in a bubble when it comes to education reform, but instead needs to look at successful programs from D.C. and elsewhere, to share data, successes, failures and results reciprocally, and states need a culture of leadership that supports innovations that make strides in student success.