By Emily Ling, 2010 Summer Policy Intern Texas’ soaring high school drop out rate is a serious problem. Think about this: How much money does Texas lose when students drop out rather than graduate? A report released last year by The Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M calculated that the “predicted cost of dropouts from the cohort of the senior class of 2012 is between $6 and $10.7 billion.” Knowing Texas could be at least $6 billion better off if we could see every student in the class of 2012 receive a diploma should provide some good incentive to seriously tackle the dropout rate. Obviously there is no single solution for helping kids stay in school. The ACLU of Texas will explore issues relating to high school drop outs at the annual meeting July 31. Here are the top three recommendations from the ACLU of Texas to keep students in class long enough to graduate: 1. Make sure that curriculum is relevant to all students. As the nation has recently seen, the Texas State Board of Education has prioritized political ideology over quality education in the adoption of curriculum standards for the state’s public schools. While having a politically charged curriculum is a disservice to all students, it is especially damaging to those children who will feel disconnected from the lessons taught in class. As Rod Paige, Secretary of Education under George W. Bush, has noted, a curriculum must be relevant to the student in order to fight dropout issues. The SBOE is meeting again this week, and unless it hopes to risk driving up even higher dropout rates, it would be wise to start establishing curriculum that fully engages ALL Texas children. 2. Keep kids out of the juvenile justice system. Once students are suspended or become involved in the court system, they are much more at risk for never finishing school. And, with 163 Texas school districts now maintaining their own police forces, and most others with on-campus law enforcement, more students are finding their minor misconduct results in criminal consequences rather than simple school discipline. Zero tolerance policies and excessive punitive measures coupled with the rising use of expulsion and ticketing in schools have effectively pushed many kids out of the classroom for good. Further bad news: When kids drop out of school now, they often become involved in the adult criminal justice system later. 3. Set Seniors Up To Succeed. In 2007 the Texas Legislature expanded traditional truancy laws beyond the scope of minors, so that now students between the ages of 18-21 who enroll in school can be subject to truancy charges for failing to attend class, even if they have to leave school to support their family. In the years since this change in law, schools have increased the number of truancy charges they’ve files by 40 percent – meaning tens of thousands of more students have faced fines and jail time for failing to attend class. When school districts charge students with truancy, their attempts to graduate are only further complicated by court appearances, fines, and even possible jail time. The state of Texas should be encouraging older students to complete their education, rather than being the only state in the nation to prosecute legal adults for too many school absences. It’s in the best interest of our communities and our economy and our kids to have a more educated, more productive workforce. More is at stake then just the future of individual students – the future health of Texas is also on the line.