Among all 50 states, California would save the most money — $2.4 billion in crime costs — if the male high school graduation rate increased by 5 percent, according to a recent report from the Alliance for Excellent Education.
The report, “Saving Futures, Saving Dollars: The Impact of Education on Crime Reduction and Earnings,” examines research that links lower levels of education with higher rates of arrests and incarceration.
In the Napa Valley Unified School District, more than 84 percent of male students graduated on time in 2011-12. Ten percent dropped out, and nearly 5 percent were still enrolled, which means those students needed another semester or longer to complete their credits.
Female students, by comparison, graduated at a rate of 90.7 percent, according to data from the California Department of Education.
Napa’s graduation rates were nearly 10 percentage points higher than the state average.
Across California, nearly 75 percent of males graduated on time in 2011-12. More than 15 percent dropped out, and 8.5 percent were still enrolled. Female students statewide graduated at a rate of 83 percent, according to the California Department of Education.
Why females typically have a higher graduation rate is an “important question” that needs more study, according to officials at Napa Valley Unified.
For some male students, the traditional nature of school — where students sit at a desk for six to seven hours — is what prevents them from becoming more engaged, said Superintendent Patrick Sweeney.
“The nation needs to focus dollars and efforts on reforming school climates to keep students engaged in ways that will lead them toward college and a career and away from crime and prison,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, in a news release. “The school-to-prison pipeline starts and ends with schools.”
There is an indirect correlation between educational attainment and arrest and incarceration rates, particularly among males, the report found. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 56 percent of federal inmates, 67 percent of inmates in state prisons, and 69 percent of inmates in local jails did not complete high school. Additionally, the number of incarcerated individuals without a high school diploma is increasing over time.
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“Dropping out of school does not automatically result in a life of crime, but high school dropouts are far more likely than high school graduates to be arrested or incarcerated,” Wise said.
The report found that increasing the male graduation rate would decrease crime nationwide. According to the report, annual incidences of assault would decrease by nearly 60,000, larceny by more than 37,000, motor vehicle theft by more than 31,000 and burglaries by more than 17,000.
It would also prevent nearly 1,300 murders, more than 3,800 occurrences of rape and more than 1,500 robberies, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.
High school graduates have the option to go to college, enroll in career training or join the military, Sweeney said.
“There are very limited options for students finding employment without high school diplomas,” Sweeney said. “The confidence to learn more is another attribute of a diploma.”
“Saving Futures, Saving Dollars” also noted a significant gap in funding between what the government spends on students and what it spends on inmates — the U.S. spends $12,643 to educate one student for one year versus the annual cost of $28,323 to house one inmate.
California ranks about 47th in the nation in terms of per-pupil spending. The vast majority of school districts in the state, including Napa Valley Unified, receive a base funding of only $6,272 per student, Sweeney said.
Meanwhile, California is expected to spend approximately $60,000 per inmate in 2013-14, according to the California Budget Project, an independent research group that conducts nonpartisan fiscal analysis.
“If the nation made a comparable investment in effort and dollars in schools as it does in jails and prisons, the return would be decreased levels of criminal activity and incarceration as well as significant and life-changing impacts on the individual,” according to the report from the Alliance for Excellent Education.