You’re right if you believe Wyoming spends a lot of money for every student in public schools.
According to the most recent statistics available, Wyoming spends about 50 percent more than other states on average per student.
That statistic might be enough to outrage some.
But, if the true cost was factored in, the real cost might be much higher.
While Wyoming spends a lot on each student, it doesn’t get as much in return as you’d expect. Graduation rates hover around 75 percent, meaning that one in every four students will not successfully complete high school.
Sadly, none of this is a particularly new trend for the state.
And yet, if the true costs could be calculated, our investment as a state would be much higher.
It’s not just the amount of money that Wyoming spends per student. The hidden cost in the education equation is what the state will spend on those who drop out.
On average, men and women who have a high school diploma earn double what those without do. During the course of a career, the difference can measured in tens of thousands of dollars.
Even for those who graduate from high school without any college, the average salary range isn’t exactly robust. Men in Wyoming who have only a high school diploma earn on average about $42,000, women with the same diploma earn about $22,000.
The numbers become sobering when considering what dropouts will likely earn. A man who doesn’t have a high school diploma can expect to earn about $21,000 annually and for women, barely $10,000. The poverty level, as defined by the federal government is $11,490 for every person in the household. When considering the plight of many single mothers who don’t graduate, or young families in which neither parent has a high school diploma, it’s easy to see the toll dropouts place on a community.
It’s a fair assumption to make: Those who don’t graduate from high school will hover near the poverty level, or may be just one paycheck from financial disaster.
This places a huge burden on “safety net” programs, from food assistance to state-financed health care.
If the true costs could actually be captured and factored in, it’s not that Wyoming spends so much per student, it’s how much it will end up paying for the one-in-four students who won’t graduate and will rely on city, county, state and federal services for survival.
We would suggest this vexing problem also contains a solution.
Many Wyoming residents would probably be uncomfortable with the idea of simply throwing more money at schools, hoping the problem will be fixed. Yet, we believe school districts and communities must look for ways to create programs that reach out to at-risk students. In fairness to many districts, they’ve gotten a good start at trying new programs aimed at keeping students in school.
Districts must redouble their efforts at creating programs that identify students whose talents may not exactly align with the standard curriculum. Instead, districts may have to offer alternative programs that provide more technical training, along with the core courses required for graduation. School districts must also look at resources for students already living in poverty, or those who face teen pregnancy.
Beyond just an economic benefit, students who might be reached in a different learning environment could be counted as graduates. Presumably, they would leave the public school system better Wyoming citizens — better informed, better equipped. Graduation, when boiled down, is nothing more than a return on a public investment. After all, spending money on education is only a good decision when students graduate — essentially having something to show for 12 years of investment.
It’s not so unlike an old advertising slogan: We can pay a little more now or a lot later.