Monetary bonus placed on reduction of North Texas dropouts

If North Texas schools, including those in Dallas and Tarrant counties, could decrease their dropout rates by half, it could mean an additional $143 million in spending a year for the region, according to a new national report out Tuesday.

The Washington D.C.-based Alliance for Excellent Education analyzed data from 45 large metropolitan areas in an effort to illustrate how high school dropouts influence not only their own lives, but their community's economic health. The group, which promotes secondary school reform that results in more high school graduates, has done similar state level studies before, but none as specific as that released Tuesday.

The figures for North Texas, which were compiled for an area that includes Dallas and Tarrant counties, as well as 12 surrounding counties, show that 32 percent of students in the area didn't graduate from high school in four years and with a regular diploma. If just half of the dropouts in the class of 2008 had graduated on time, it could have meant as much as $197 million a year in average increased annual earnings for those approximately 14,500 students, according to the study.

In the study called The Economic Benefits from Halving Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington's Dropout Rate: A Boom To Regional Businesses, the researchers estimated that even just 1,000 additional graduates could bring an add $1.3 million to local and state tax proceeds each year.

Educators in Tarrant County and throughout the state have put increased focus on keeping students in school in recent years, as their state accountability rankings have been tied to "completion rates." Those rates also give districts credit for students who come back for programs even though they didn't graduate in five years.

In Arlington, for example, officials tried to get students back this fall by doing home visits and offering freebies like Texas Rangers tickets to students who attended tutoring. In that district, 74.5 percent of the students in the class of 2008 graduated in four years. Another 14.3 percent came back the next fall for some kind of program, whether it was to re-enroll or take part in test preparations courses that would help them pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exam.