Meeting the Challenge: Fiscal Implications of Dropout Prevention in Massachusetts

February 2011

In 2009, for the first time in a decade, Massachusetts' dropout rate fell below three percent. While this progress is promising, there remain nearly 8,300 students who did not earn their high school diplomas during the 2009-2010 school year. Given that these individuals face significantly lower earning potential, fewer prospects for employment, much higher rates of incarceration and health problems, and are much more likely to utilize public assistance than those who graduate, there is continued cause for concern and attention to the goal of ensuring that every student receives their high school diploma.

In the current environment of constrained resources, many districts are reluctant to launch new programs or improve existing services that provide additional supports for students at risk of dropping out. Declines in revenue combined with rising costs have constricted local education budgets, forcing superintendents and school business officers to make tough decisions about which programs to fund and which must be cut. It is within this context that the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy engaged in a study to not only explore promising dropout reduction approaches across Massachusetts, but to also examine the costs and benefits of promising practices for reducing the number of students dropping out of school.

Meeting the Challenge: Fiscal Implications of Dropout Prevention in Massachusetts, conducted with support from the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officers (MASBO), explores the approaches, costs and potential financial benefits of implementing dropout reduction strategies. It highlights a diverse group of five Massachusetts districts that have substantially reduced their dropout rates over the past three years and identifies the district-wide policies and school-based strategies that superintendents and principals indicate have contributed to reducing the number of students dropping out of school. The brief also presents two scenarios that illustrate how, for some districts, per pupil funding obtained from increased enrollment due to successful dropout prevention strategies can be allocated to serve at-risk students.

Considerations for School and District Leaders

  • Incorporate strategies that promote engagement and student success into every aspect of the school experience.
  • Support staff in taking on new roles and responsibilities.
  • Analyze data to determine what works and allocate resources accordingly.
  • Use the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's Early Warning Indicator Index to budget for dropout prevention initiatives for incoming high school students.
  • Formalize strategies for reaching out to and re-engaging students who have dropped out.

Considerations for State Policymakers

  • Work to establish sustainable funding streams for districts' dropout prevention initiatives.
  • Continue to promote, provide and seek ways to expand data collection and analysis tools for schools and districts.
  • Strengthen the ability of districts to establish partnerships with community based social service agencies, local businesses and institutions of higher education.
  • Facilitate outreach to dropouts.
  • Expand alternative education options.

This policy brief was released at a public event on March 1st, 2011.

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