Kansas legislators are receiving a report from a program called Jobs for America's Graduates – Kansas (JAG-K) that shows significant promise as a model for raising the state graduation rate. It also shows why improving these educational outcomes will cost more - and how the payoff will be worth it.
Spending $1,230 per year to help an at-risk student finish high school results in $5,229 more in annual earnings and $235,000 over 45 years working – even more if the student continues education after high school.
Jobs for America’s Graduates is a nationwide initiative that seeks to help at-risk students succeed in jobs and careers. Thirty-three states had JAG programs in 2016-17. The program works through an in-school elective class that focuses on workforce competencies. It also includes community engagement activities, academic remediation, summer support and a 12-month follow-up period for seniors.
JAG-K is primarily funded through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant but is also supported by corporate and individual donations. Executive Director/CEO Chuck Knapp said its Kansas student/teacher ratio is 15:1.
The program results are impressive: according to testimony, the JAG-K Class of 2016 had a graduation rate of 93 percent, positive outcomes of 89 percent, and full-time placement (college and/or work) of 95 percent.
According to testimony, this year JAG-K has 68 programs in 33 school districts, serving approximately 3,100 students. According to JAG-K website, the average investment is generally less than $1,400 per student per year. The national JAG website says the cost per participant in the national network is $1,230.
How does the 3,100 students currently served compare with the need? Over the last four years, ninth grade public school enrollment in Kansas has averaged 37,384, according to Kansas State Department of Education Date Central reports. With an "adjusted cohort graduation rate" of 86 percent, 14 percent of those ninth graders, or 5,234, will not graduate. That is four times the number of students currently served by JAG-K, and would require an estimated $4.8 million more for each class.
However, JAG-K actually provides assistance to students in all grades of high school. To provide JAG-K programs for 14 percent of students in grades nine through twelve currently not completing high school in four years would mean serving nearly 21,000 students, at a cost of about $24 million.
Providing JAG-K (or similar) services to 21,000 students currently expected to drop out of school at a cost of $24 million would certainly be possible as part of a plan to increase school funding by $600 million. In fact, it would be completely consistent with the results of a survey of district leaders reporting that they would spend $2.4 million specifically to increase the graduate rate; $2.4 million for "other" programs which could include JAG-K, and $47.2 million for unspecified "at-risk" programs. (Other funding would go to students in lower grades and other programs to help high school students prepare for postsecondary education.)
Providing this program for four years of high school would require just under $5,000 per student. Because high school graduates in Kansas currently earn $5,229 annually more than someone who has not completed high school, this investment will effectively pay for itself in economic terms in a single year. But over a typical working career of about 45 years, the difference will be $235,305 in lifetime earnings for each graduate, without adjusting for inflation or other differences in future earnings. Because many of these students will go on to complete postsecondary programs that result in much higher earnings, the impact will be even greater.
Programs like JAG-K demonstrate that increasing funding for K-12 education, especially targeted at students currently not succeeding, in order to comply with the Kansas Supreme Court is not just an expense. It is an investment that will be repaid through higher earnings of individuals who will spend and invest that additional income – which will also reduce in the long-term cost of social services and corrections.
Here are a few key facts to remember:
- Other states are doing this. Since 2011, the national graduate rate has increased from 79 percent to 84 percent, while Kansas has increased more slowly, from 83 percent to 86 percent, and Kansas dropped from 12 to 23 in national ranking.
- From 2008 to 2015 (latest data available), Kansas funding per pupil increased 4.8 percent, while the national average increased 11.7 percent. Only 11 states had a slower rate of investment in K-12 education per pupil.
- Preparing students to complete with other states academically and in the job market is one of the seven "Rose" capacities identified by the Kansas Supreme Court to determine adequate funding, and adopted by the Kansas Legislature as an educational goal.
- The Governor's budget calls for increasing K-12 funding by $600 million over five years to address the Supreme Court ruling, and also calls for reaching a 95 percent graduation rate. The state’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) recently approved by the U.S. Department of Education, also sets that goal. Achieving it would make Kansas the highest in the nation (based on current state graduation rates).