October 2, 2010 in Opinion

Editorial: Prop 1 not the answer for attacking dropout rate

 

Free public education is society’s gift to its children and an investment in its own future.

So whenever young people stupidly flush it down the toilet they are cheating themselves and the community.

No wonder so many people and organizations are searching for ways to reduce the disturbing rate at which youngsters drop out of school.

One such effort appears on the Nov. 2 general election ballot in Spokane. Proposition 1 would raise about $5 million a year for the next six years if voters approve a property tax increase of 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The owner of a $150,000 house would pay a little more than $50 a year to underwrite the dropout-prevention plans promised by backers of the Children’s Initiative.

But what will those plans look like, and what are the chances they will succeed? No one knows.

Advocates of the measure commendably recognize that the place to direct attention is not within the schools but in the surrounding community, where multiple researchers have identified causes and influences that are tip-offs to future academic difficulty. Thus, the Children’s Initiative would put the revenue under the control of the city, which would appoint an 11-member committee to decide which community organizations should receive funding for programs to keep kids in school by mitigating those adverse influences.

Backers promise the investment will go to “evidence based, best practice and proven programs with measurable results.” Unfortunately, they can’t identify the proven programs they have in mind. And voters can’t make their own judgments because those programs won’t be picked until after the taxes have been approved.

Although Proposition 1 is modeled after funding programs approved in such cities as Seattle, Portland and Miami, those programs have not reduced dropouts.

Indeed, if there were proven programs to reduce dropouts, why haven’t they been widely adopted to revive the steady increase that was happening with graduation rates until about 45 years ago when they leveled off, nationwide, in the mid-70 percent range?

We don’t contend that Proposition 1 is a bad idea, just a premature one. Other efforts are under way in this community under the guidance of Priority Spokane and the Inland Northwest Community Foundation to identify dropout-prevention strategies with, if not immediate proof, at least convincing promise. The community-minded enthusiasts who devised the Children’s Initiative should coordinate with that effort and come back in the future with a specific proposal that voters could evaluate before casting their ballots.

We’ve no doubt that various community organizations could put $5 million a year to good use. But at the end of six years, we foresee a strong renewal campaign, no longer based on dropout concerns but on the necessity of other social-service expenditures.

Improving graduation rates is a cause that merits community enthusiasm. Once a concrete action plan is available, it deserves serious consideration. Proposition 1 is not that plan, however, and for now, we believe voters should reject it.

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