Subset of Ohio Charter Schools Saves the State Money

There is a subsection of Ohio community schools (known as charter schools in other states) that specifically serve students who have either dropped out of traditional public schools or are credit deficient. These schools, known as Dropout Recovery and Prevention Schools (DORPs) are now endangered under Ohio law.

Until 2014, DORPs in Ohio were protected from closure by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) due to poor performance, i.e., low graduation rates and/or poor academic measures, by a waiver that was codified in state law. That waiver law expired in 2014 and current Ohio law allows ODE to close DORPs after three years of poor academic performance. For the past few years, DORPs were granted what the state called “safe harbor,” meaning, the academic performance of DORPs for the past few years would not count against the “clock” of, if a DORP had poor performance measures, the three year period toward closure.

However, as of the 2017-2018 academic year, safe harbor no longer exists and the “clock” toward three years of poor performance measures equaling mandatory closure from the state begins for DORPs. This means, as of academic year 2020-2021, the state will begin automatic forced closures of DOPRs who have poor academic measurements for three continuous years.

I recently earned my Ed.D. from Creighton University. Having worked with DORPs for eight years in Dayton I was interested in examining the impact closures of DORPs would have on government and taxpayers. Thus, for my dissertation, I conducted a Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) of DORPs and provided model policy recommendations for stakeholders based the findings of CBA. My research strongly suggested DORPs produce a positive CBA.

I examined the 2012-2013 academic year for DORPs. According to my research, 2,670 students graduated from DORPs at the end of the 2013 school year. Research from the University of Cincinnati estimates Ohio taxpayers can realize a lifetime net benefit of nearly $210,000 per high school graduate, which amounts to a return of $11.62 for every $1 invested.

Therefore, my first research question examined what is the comparative cost of educating DORP students versus the estimated societal cost of failing to graduate DORP graduates for the 2012-2013 school year? DORPs in 2012-2013 school year received $5,800 in per pupil funding. A student must be 16 years of age to enroll in a DORP. Ohio law only provides funding to a public school for a student until that student reaches the age of 22. Thus, the maximum cost to the state for funding a 2012-2013 DORP student was $34,800 ($5,800 x 6 years). Multiply this figure by the 2,670 DORP graduates of the 2012-2013 academic year and the maximum cost of educating DORP students would be $90,780,000. The societal cost of failing to graduate these dropouts or credit deficient students (loss of the $210,000 net benefit per student) would be $560,700,000 for the same academic year. Thus, there was a positive CBA to government of $469,920,000 ($560,700,000 – $90,780,000).

Another research question I looked at was the difference in governmental transfers between high school graduates and non-graduates. Research from the University of Cincinnati also states a high school dropout receives $5,091 annually in government transfers, whereas a high school graduate receives $2,851. Government transfers is defined as public cash assistance, housing subsidies, food stamps, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid. Thus, the annual difference in government transfers for each high school graduate is $2,240. When the number of 2012-2013 DORP graduates (2,670) is multiplied by the difference in governmental transfers ($2,240), the total annual savings of government transfers to Ohio adults via educational attainment is $5,980,800 (positive CBA to Ohio).

Critics of DORPs claim they are not necessary as a student who desires to return to school can return to a traditional public school. This rationale is not practical for two reasons. First, why would a dropout desire to return to the same environment in which they previously failed? Second, not all traditional public schools are equipped to handle older dropout students. For example, if an 18 year old student who only has two credits returns to a traditional public school, should that eighteen year old, who is technically a freshman by credits earned, be placed back into the classroom with 14-15 year old freshmen? That is not an environment that is beneficial to the 18 year old or the 14 year old (some traditional public school districts have sponsored their own DORPs and are equipped to handle dropout students).

Again, my research strongly suggests DORPs have a positive economic impact on government. DORPs save taxpayers money by turning students, who would otherwise be high school dropouts and a drain on the governmental systems of Medicaid, unemployment, food stamps, etc., into high school graduates. My research only looked at the CBA for one academic year and showed positive CBA (over $5M in governmental transfers and almost $470M in cost of educating DORP students vs. cost of failing to educate dropouts). One can only hypothesize that multi-year CBA of DORPs would show savings to government or positive CBA in the billions if examination of one academic year produced a positive CBA of $470M.

It should be no surprise that DORPs have a high turnover (students who have previously dropped out are prone to drop out again), and low test scores (as DORPs are attempting to educate students who have been out of the educational system for an extended period of time or are severely credit deficient). DORPs also have significant challenges getting students to graduation (an eighteen year old with two credits has to work diligently with significant school support to reach the credit threshold for graduation). Thus, DORPs are going to going to have an incredibly difficult time meeting the new grading criteria set forth by ODE (graduation, achievement, gap closing, and progress measurements) to stay open to serve students.

Until 2014, Ohio Legislature recognized the unique challenges DORPs faced and protected them from closure. Why, in 2014, the legislature stopped recognizing these challenges and subjected DORPs to mandatory closure laws, I do not know. However, I do know my research strongly suggests the existence of DORPs in Ohio saves taxpayers money. Critics bemoan the cost of operating, and the low attendance at, DORPs. However, these critics fail to realize the cost to the taxpayer for not educating/graduating these students. DORPs have a unique mission and should be protected by the legislature, not forced to close in three years.

David L. House II, M.P.A., Ed.D.

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