Historically, the federal government has directed billions of dollars to improving the kindergarten and elementary grades, and to supporting access to a college education. Correspondingly, our nation's younger students - particularly in recent years - have made demonstrable gains in reading and math while America's postsecondary system of colleges and universities remains the envy of the world. At the same time, however, federal government funding has almost ignored middle and high schools, and again results follow effort. Nearly 1.2 million students leave high school each year without a diploma - that's nearly 7,000 new high school dropouts every school day.
While annual funding for grades Pre-K-6 totals nearly $18 billion and funding for postsecondary education totals almost $17 billion, the nation's secondary schools are stuck in the "missing middle," as demonstrated by this chart. Annually, the federal contribution to grades 7-12 is only about $6 billion.
Decades of research clearly document that early education programs dramatically improve student achievement, especially in the lower grades. But increasingly, research has begun to confirm that students need support throughout the education continuum if they are to graduate truly prepared for the world after high school.
Without that ongoing support, almost one third of starting ninth graders will not graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to compete in the knowledge-based economy of the twenty-first century. Another third will not graduate at all and will face a life of lower wages and diminishing opportunities. And the impact goes beyond that felt by the individual. For states, large numbers of high school dropouts mean lower tax revenues, but also more difficulty in attracting new business, additional spending on social programs, and higher criminal justice system costs. For the nation, dropouts translate into lost human and economic potential and a weakened ability to compete in a quickly growing global economy.
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