AmeriCorps to Play a Part in Turning Around Country’s Schools

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has announced the launch of a new 15-million 5-year program to put AmeriCorps volunteers into the halls and classrooms of the nation's worst schools in order to help the students most at-risk of dropping out to graduate high school. In total, 650 AmeriCorps members will be taking up posts in 60 schools around the country and will be working to help students not only earn their diploma but also to improve their math and reading skills.

When announcing the program, Duncan explained that the country could no longer afford to bear the financial cost of high school dropouts. According to a recently released report, people who fail to graduate high school cost the nation more than $1.8 billion in lost tax revenue every year – money that could be used to improve the education system and support the national infrastructure.

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.

Many states are still recovering from the financial hit they took due to the recent recession, and as such in only a few has the education spending bounced back to the level it was prior to the economic calamity. By allowing AmeriCorps to step in, Duncan hopes to lift some of the financial burden off the empty state coffers and at the same time, expand the base of future taxpayers that will put the government on a better financial footing going forward.

As the Huffington Post points out, many of the cuts the states needed to make could have been avoided had their schools boasted a 90% high school graduation rate.

Take Colorado, where the state cut $4.7 million from its higher education budgets between fiscal years 2012 and 2013, according to the budget officers' annual report. If 90 percent of students finished high school, state and local governments would have $4.1 million extra, the education advocates said. The state graduated 74 percent of its students in 2011. Or New Jersey, where the state cut $19.2 million from its public assistance budget that includes disaster relief and mental health services, the budget officers' said in their annual report. Had the state graduation rate been 90 percent, the cuts could have been dodged through $19 million in added tax revenue these high school dropouts would pay in state and local taxes, according to the education advocates' report. Some 83 percent of New Jersey students graduated on time in 2011.

These were the numbers arrived at by the report published by the Alliance for Excellent Education who compared the average annual earnings of a person who dropped out of high school prior to graduation and one that went on to get their diploma. The final numbers could be even larger because the state typically spends more money providing support services to those who didn't finish high school.

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