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Report: Dropouts cost nation $1.8B each year

| Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, 8:00 p.m.

WASHINGTON — High school dropouts are costing about $1.8 billion in lost tax revenue every year, education advocates said in a report released on Monday.

If states were to increase their graduation rates, state and federal lawmakers could be plugging their budgets with workers' taxes instead of furloughing teachers, closing drivers license offices and cutting unemployment benefits. While advocates tend to focus on the moral argument that all children deserve a quality education, they could just as easily look at budgets' bottom lines.

“This has huge economic implications,” said John Bridgeland, president and CEO of Civic Enterprises, a public policy group that helped write the report.

That's part of the reason Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Monday introduced a three-year, $15 million effort to put AmeriCorps members in 60 of the nation's worst schools. About 650 AmeriCorps members are going to try to raise graduation rates, increase math and reading skills and prepare more students for college.

“Turning around our nation's lowest-performing schools is challenging work that requires everyone to play a part — from teachers, administrators and counselors to business leaders, the philanthropic sector and community members,” Duncan said.

Increased graduation rates might be the most lasting way to turn around struggling budgets.

About 24 state budgets are smaller than they were in 2008, and states are still clawing back to pre-recession levels, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.

Lawmakers in state capitols are making tough choices about whether to raise taxes to keep classroom lights on or to sell off state agencies to provide health care to seniors. Federal officials, meanwhile, are facing about $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that are set to take hold at the end of the week.

Nationally, a 90 percent graduation rate would yield $1.8 billion in local, state and federal taxes based on $5.3 billion in higher wages, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.

All told, the group believes a graduation rate at that level would produce $6.6 billion in economic growth.

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