Dropouts in Kentucky – How many are we really talking about
Pending legislation in Kentucky to raise the minimum high school dropout age to 18 has generated a number of questions concerning the actual number of students that could be added to the state’s school system if teens who now can leave as early as age 16 are suddenly forced to remain in the school system, instead. Aside from serious questions about whether simply raising the dropout age to 18 has much impact on high school graduation rates, determining an accurate count of the true number of dropouts is critical to developing estimates of the costs that will be associated with suddenly forcing many more students to remain in school until age 18.
Unfortunately, there is disturbing evidence that the official dropout figures from the Kentucky Department of Education are seriously under-reporting the true situation.
For example, a formal audit conducted in 2006 by the Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts indicates that the official numbers are indeed seriously under-stating the true dimensions of the problem. The auditor was only able to examine partial data. However, even with incomplete information that ignores students who leave during the summer, the audit shows state’s official numbers under-report dropouts by at least 30 percent. This means that any estimates of costs to raise the dropout age to 18 that have been based on the official Kentucky Department of Education dropout figures must be increased by at least 30 percent.
However, research conducted by the Bluegrass Institute’s education analyst, Richard Innes, find that here indicates the real dropout figure for the Kentucky High School Class of 2009 could be between 75 to over 80 percent – not 30 percent – higher than the officially reported figure of 6,272.
Instead of that officially reported dropout count of 6,272 students, Innes’ report indicates that the actual number of high school dropouts from the Kentucky Public High School Class of 2009 may number over 11,400 students.
This astonishing difference could nearly double any cost estimates for raising the dropout age to 18 that are based on the official dropout data from the Kentucky Department of Education.