Plan to help dropouts is worth considering

More than a million Ohio adults never graduated from high school. Every year, about 24,000 teenagers join them by dropping out of school.

Lack of a high school diploma puts a very low ceiling on a person’s prospects for success. That ceiling drops even lower every year, as specialized skills become critical to gaining better jobs.

Obviously, the best way of ensuring young people graduate from high school is to be certain they do not drop out. But once they have, they should not be abandoned. Doing that is a disservice to them – and to taxpayers, who frequently must foot bills for government benefits required by those whose lack of education limits their job prospects.

State legislators are considering a plan by Gov. John Kasich to help dropouts. He has proposed a pilot program, including $2.5 million in start-up money, that would kill two birds with one stone.

Kasich’s proposal is that community colleges and technical schools provide both vocational training and, for those who never graduated from high school, basic education leading toward diplomas.

That is a promising strategy. Most community colleges and technical schools already have programs in place to help students who lack basic, high-school level skills. Kasich’s idea would, in a way, merely institutionalize what already is being done.

Under Kasich’s proposal, the program would be open to Ohioans older than 22 years of age. That is the current limit for obtaining a conventional high school diploma.

At the same time the governor and lawmakers are considering this new approach, they should not give up on public schools. State school Superintendent Richard Ross told some members of the state House of Representatives recently the Kasich plan means that, “instead of going back to a high school, a place that has already failed them, an adult can move on to community or technical college to get a high-school diploma.”

Ross’ comment is true only to an extent. Indeed, some dropouts have not been served well by the public school system. But many school districts have their own programs, such as those involving GED diplomas, to help adults. Those initiatives need to be supported, too.

That said, Kasich’s idea is a good one. Legislators should approve it.