Many believe education is the great equalizer, and levels the playing field. While that might have been the case in previous years, many are now calling this into question — and asking if education has now become the ‘great divide.’

With reports stating that students from low income families are twice as likely to drop out of high school as students from families in the top half of incomes, Georgia could feel a major impact. More than 600,000 students — or almost half the 1.6 million students in Georgia’s public K-12 schools–  are living in poverty.  Another 39,695 students in the state’s public K-12 schools are homeless.

With these factors in play, the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education (GPEE) has included “The Economics of Education – Breaking the Poverty Cycle” as one of the Top Ten Issues to watch in 2017. The report was researched and compiled by Dr. Dana Rickman, Policy and Research Director for GPEE.

In her report, Rickman states that apparent achievement gaps for low-income and minority students have serious implications, not only for the students and their ability to break out of the cycle of poverty, but also for Georgia’s economic development.

She cites information from ‘Get Georgia Reading’ which shows that children who are not reading on grade level by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school. This is not good news for Georgia, Rickman says, where the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that  low income students (defined as eligible for free and reduced-priced school lunches) scored a full 25 points lower in reading than the students who were not eligible.

Rickman reports that children born into the bottom fifth of income levels have a “40 percent chance of remaining there into adulthood.” The risk of remaining poor increases to 50 percent if this child is raised by a poor single mother, and jumps to 60 percent if that child does not finish high school, according to Rickman’s report.

At the same time, “The Hamilton Project — Thirteen Economic Facts About Social Mobility and the Role of Education” reports that a child’s family income plays a dominant role in determining his or her future income, and those who start out poor are likely to remain poor. This data suggests that a child born in the lowest quintile is more than 10 times more likely to end up in the lowest quintile than the highest as an adult.

The Hamilton Project goes on to state, “Although children of high- and low-income families are born with similar abilities, high-income parents are increasingly investing more in their children. As a result, the gap between high- and low-income students in K-12 test scores, college attendance and completion, and graduation rates continues to grow.”

As the gap continues to expand, Georgia’s long-term economic development could be impacted. Rickman reports that over 60 percent of jobs by 2025 will require some sort of post-secondary degree or certificate. “Based on current graduation rates, minorities and low-income students are less likely to graduate from high school and obtain post-secondary credentials to allow them to participate in Georgia’s growing economy,” Rickman says.

And while Georgia’s graduation rate jumped from 78.8 percent in 2015 to 79.2 percent in 2016– reflecting  an increase for the fifth straight year– the state’s high school dropout rate remains above the national average, according to new data released from the National Center for Education Statistics.

In her report, Rickman states that while Georgia implements “ambitious plans to increase the skill level of the workforce… the state is also being hit with a growing number of students and communities trapped in the poverty cycle.”

Rickman states that  more than one-quarter of children in Georgia live below the poverty line, making the state the ninth highest in the nation for child poverty rates. She adds that Georgia ranks 10th highest in the country for the number of children living in extreme poverty at 12 percent.

“These children tend to live in communities of concentrated, persistent poverty.”

Rickman cites KIDS Count data center (Oct 2016) stating that “of Georgia’s 159 counties, 51 have more than a quarter of their population living in poverty.”

Rickman’s report on the economics of education is one of 10 issues covered in the 13th edition of the Georgia’s Partnership for Excellence in Education’s Top Ten Issues to Watch in 2017 which was released Friday. Other topics include funding, early education, student mental health and “No Opportunity School District — What Now?”


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