Louisiana’s dismal public school dropout rate would benefit from a renewed push by Gov. Bobby Jindal and more efforts from local districts, a report issued on Tuesday says.
“The governor, who made high school dropout prevention a priority early in his administration, must reassert his energy and support in this direction,” according to a study by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana.
In addition, local school districts need to do more, and complement recent state efforts, to keep students in school, the 72-page report says.
“What the graduation and dropout numbers show clearly is that many local districts have failed in that responsibility over the past decade or so,” the PAR study says.
PAR calls itself a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that offers possible solutions on public issues.
Louisiana’s dropout rate is among the worst in the nation.
The study says that 17 percent of the freshmen class of 2006 dropped out before graduation in 2010, or nearly 57,000 students.
“That is more than 1 percent of the population of the state,” said PAR President Robert Travis Scott.
The state Department of Education has launched a variety of programs to boost the high school graduation rate to 80 percent by 2014, which is required by a 2009 state law.
State officials have said they will know by next month whether the 80 percent goal — which is considered highly ambitious — is reachable based on the passage rate of last year’s ninth-graders.
The current graduation rate is 67.4 percent, which federal officials say is 47th in the nation.
The report says the Jindal administration “should articulate solutions to implement these strategies and take the lead in arranging resources to back them up.
“He (Jindal) must spell out a convincing strategy to hold local school districts responsible for their end of the bargain,” says the report.
In a prepared statement, Jindal said the PAR study noted dropout improvements in recent years, in part through the elimination of failed state dropout prevention programs.
But the governor stated that, aside from any gains, “we need to move much faster, because even one child dropping out is still too many and our kids only grow up once.”
Karen Rowley, who wrote the study, said students drop out because of academic problems, a catastrophic life event, boredom and discipline problems.
Other states are grappling with similar issues, she noted, and multiple steps are needed to improve the picture.
Meanwhile, the study says more anti-dropout steps are needed from local school districts, especially amid state budget problems.
Despite recent financial troubles, annual state aid for public schools rose frequently starting in 1999.
The study says that, while state officials offered local educators with support and resources, those steps only produced incremental gains.
“What this suggests is that part of the problem lies in the decisions local school districts make,” the report says.
On the plus side, Scott said state officials have been trying to address the dropout problem for the past decade. New curriculum options are offered and the state Department of Education has been reorganized, he added.
State officials working to meet the 80 percent high school graduation rate have pinpointed 50 schools statewide, including seven in the Baton Rouge area, for special attention as possible sources for additional graduates.
The list includes Belaire, Istrouma, McKinley, Scotlandville and Tara high schools in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, and Denham Springs and Walker high schools in the Livingston Parish school system.