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MO: Report Shows Statewide Dropouts Decrease

Missouri ranks 31st nationwide in the 2010 Kids Count databook, a report released today that rates the status of children in each state based on statistics from 10 key areas.

Missouri improved in four categories, with its most significant improvement in the high school dropout rate. The other areas in which Missouri improved were child and teen death rates and teen birth rates. Conditions worsened in the areas of children in poverty, low birth weights and infant mortality.

The dropout rate in Missouri decreased by 36 percent between 2000 and 2008, the report said. Although Missouri experienced a significant decrease, it was below the national average of a 45 percent decrease in dropouts.

Locally, Columbia Public Schools has seen a decrease in dropout rates over the past five years, but the district experienced an increase in rates between the 2008 and 2009 school years, from 3.4 percent to 4.1 percent.

School district spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said although the increase can’t be attributed to one particular reason, recent budget cuts likely played a role, affecting dropout prevention programs.

“We simply can’t afford to do them with the budget situation being what it is,” she said. “It’s not that they’re not important, we’re just trying to cut as far away from the classroom as we can.”

The district lacks funds to create new programs to deal with the increased number of dropouts but will strive to reduce that number in the upcoming school year through existing programs, she said.

“We’re looking at being more efficient and effective with the ones we have,” Baumstark said

The 2009 4.1 percent rate is still lower than Columbia’s 2005 dropout rate of 4.6 percent. Baumstark said outreach programs played a significant role in the decrease.

Douglass High School, the city’s alternative school, offers students several options in terms of outreach programs and counselors. Baumstark also cited Minority Achievement Scholars, a program that aims to close the achievement gap. Local schools also participate in statewide dropout prevention programs, such as the Missouri Option. That program helps youths considered at risk for dropping out earn their GEDs.

Michele Clark, communications coordinator for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the statewide decrease in high school dropouts can be attributed to programs such as the Missouri Option. Another recently added program combines community service with classroom studies.

“It’s really a community effort to help keep students in school,” Clark said. “Students leave school for many reasons, and it’s not all related to the classroom.”

The Kids Count data included 2008 as the most recent year measured, citing a dropout rate of 7 percent statewide that year. However, numbers from the state education department put Missouri’s dropout rate at 4.1 percent in 2010, a slight decrease from the previous school year.

Missouri’s ranking of 31st nationwide in the Kids Count report is its best showing since 2006, when it ranked No. 30. When ratings by county were last released, Boone County ranked No. 10 statewide. New county rankings were not yet available.

The organization that will obtain the information for Missouri next year remains up in the air, as Citizens for Missouri’s Children, a children’s advocacy group that collected the information in years past, closed its doors June 3.

The group still provided information for this year’s report through contracts with organizations such as the Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis at the University of Missouri and Children’s Trust in Missouri, Kids Count coordinator Don Crary said.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is working to find a permanent grantee to take on Citizens for Missouri’s Children’s role in Kids Count. Sue Lin Chong, public affairs manager, said the group hopes to select a new grantee by fall.