Offering Incentives for Early High School Graduation Would Save Taxpayer Money
A simple policy change could help gifted students pay for college, use school resources more efficiently, shrink overcrowded classrooms, and allow teachers to focus on students who require extra attention, all while saving the state — and, thus, Missouri taxpayers — money. By offering students a portion of the state funds that would have been used to pay for their public school educations, Missouri would establish early graduation incentives for public high school students who are willing and able to complete the curriculum at an accelerated rate.
Missouri would not be wading into uncharted waters by establishing such a program; both Arizona and Texas have already implemented successful early graduation incentive programs to provide aid to their students. The Arizona program, known as the Early Graduation Scholarship Grant, disburses aid to graduates of Arizona public high schools, provided that students graduate at least one semester early and attend a postsecondary institution at least half-time. The amount of aid that a student receives in this program is contingent upon how early that student graduates, and the amount of courses that student takes upon graduating. A student who graduates a year early and enrolls full time at a postsecondary institution receives up to $1,250 during the first year of enrollment, and up to $750 during the second year. A full-time enrollee who graduates one semester early receives up to $1,000 during the first year of enrollment and up to $500 during the second year.
The Texas plan, the Early High School Graduation Scholarship, has elements similar to the Arizona plan but also encourages high school students to earn college credit. This plan stipulates that aid must be used at higher education institutions within the state of Texas. Per the plan, a student graduating high school in fewer than 36 months receives $2,000, with an additional $1,000 if that student has earned 15 hours of college credit prior to graduation. A student graduating after 36 to 41 months of high school receives $500, and an additional $1,000 for 30 college credit hours. A student graduating in no more than 41 months receives $1,000, provided that student has earned 30 college credit hours.
In Missouri, a policy that blended elements of the Arizona and Texas programs could produce a win-win-win-win situation for the state government, taxpayers, students, and schools. During 2006, the amount the state paid $3,250 per pupil to school districts. Suppose that Missouri develops a program granting $1,000 to any student graduating one year early. Also, suppose that 2,569 students participate in the program (the number that participated in the similar program in Arizona, a state containing roughly as many students as does Missouri). This would amount to an annual taxpayer savings of nearly $6 million.
Meanwhile, the student would enjoy a scholarship that pays for a substantial chunk of tuition at an in-state institution. As for school districts, although they would lose a portion of state revenue that would otherwise go to students who have graduated early, the largest slice of their revenue pie — taxes on local property values — would remain untouched. Schools and teachers would then be able to devote more time and money to students who need the most of both in order to be successful.
Often, we attempt to solve our problems in education through spending. Here, we have a tool that can both expand college access and increase per-student resources, all while saving money. That makes for sound policy, one that the state should seriously consider.
Abhi Sivasailam is an intern with the Show-Me Institute and an economics student at the University of Missouri–Columbia.