BY SHARON MARTIN
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for high school dropouts in May 2013 was 12.4%. During the same period, the unemployment rate for folks with a bachelor’s degree was 4.5%. And the average college grad earns 2½ times what the average working dropout makes, those lucky enough to have jobs.
The numbers take into account dropouts with specialized training. Welders, electricians, long-haul truckers earn more than average.
Without skills training, however, a dropout’s prospects are dim. Instead of being a boon to a community, the undereducated are often a drag on its resources.
As a society, they are our failure. Everyone deserves a chance to succeed. Everyone deserves an appropriate education.
Education is an investment. What you spend to teach a child comes back many-fold. Educated people are more likely to get and hold a job. They earn more money, which is circulated through our economic system. They require fewer services. They pay taxes.
Oklahoma’s legislators cannot distinguish between expenditure and investment. Giving tax relief to companies who will operate here regardless is not an investment; it’s a gift. Buying CNG cars, while of benefit to the climate, is still an expense in a budget that has cut public education to the bone. You can buy a whole lot of gasoline for the cost of a new car.
Many dropouts wind up in a jail cell because the education system failed them. Prisons are an expense. We pay many times over for what we don’t put into education.
A new chart from 24/7 Wall Street pegs Oklahoma’s annual per pupil expenditure at $7,587, third lowest in the nation. Third lowest! Compare this to the average annual cost of a prisoner, $14,000, even in our understaffed prisons. This translates to lost opportunities and wasted futures.
It is the reason we make the bottom of so many other lists: Bottom 10 in health rankings [43rd], obesity [45th], teen birth rate [46th], and premature death [46th]. We lead the nation in the rate of incarcerated women.
Education plays a role not only in a person’s earnings but also in a person’s health and welfare.
Why this rant, which you have all heard before? Because Oklahoma legislators aren’t listening. Surely they wouldn’t fail to fund education if they knew what is at stake.
We have to keep telling them, hoping they’ll hear, hoping that they’ll invest in the future, that they’ll do the right thing.
– Sharon Martin lives in Oilton, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer