Nevada's High School Dropout Rate Worst in Nation

Nevada has the worst high-school dropout rate in the nation and ranks 33rd in the nation overall in a national report measuring 10 key areas related to the health and economic prospects of children.

The overall ranking in the 2007 Kids Count Data Book marked a slight improvement from Nevada's position at 36th a year ago, due partly to an improvement in the teen birth rate and teen death rate.

But since 2000, the state has seen an increase in the percentage
of low-birth weight babies and in the percentage of children living
in single-parent families or in homes where no parent has full-time, year-round employment.

The number of Nevada children living in poverty, where a family of four earns below $19,806, also rose by 15 percent.

At the same time, 71 percent of low-income families in Nevada spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

That makes Nevada one of the 10 most expensive states for low-income families said Laura Beavers, the Casey research associate who oversaw production of the 2007 Kids Count data book.

"To a lot of people in the country, that will come as a surprise," Beavers said. "A lot of people still think Nevada is affordable."

In both Nevada and the United States, the median family income, when adjusted for inflation, buys less now than it did five years ago, Beavers said.

"On the economic side, it's something we should be sounding bells about," Beavers said. "Whatever economic recovery we have now, it's not trickled down. It's not a true economic recovery for kids."

The 18th annual Kids Count report was issued by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based nonprofit organization that promotes reforms to help vulnerable children and families. The 2007 Kids Count uses comparative data from Nevada and the nation for 2000 and from 2004-05.

Nationally, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Connecticut ranked highest in well-being indicators for children and teens. Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi ranked the lowest.

"This data is important because children and youth inherit the future," said R. Keith Schwer, director of Nevada Kids Count. "So, the question for us is: Are we doing what we should be doing in our stewardship of these children and youths?"

"The problem is Nevada still has a high dropout rate, and that is the fundamental issue," Schwer said. "The national dropout rate is 7 percent and Nevada is at 11 percent, and that is the dropout rate based on Nevada's school records."

Schwer, also director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said Nevada's rapid growth and migratory population are other factors in its high dropout rate.

Nevada school officials question the accuracy of that ranking because it is based on a community survey taken by the U.S. Census Bureau that asked 16- to 19-year-olds whether they are still in school or have earned their diplomas. That means dropouts or teenagers who didn't earn their diplomas who moved from other states would be included in Nevada's dropout rate, they said.

Because states use different methods to determine their dropout rates, Schwer said Kids Count must use the Census Bureau's community survey because it is the only consistent measure for the states.

The dropout rate in the Washoe County School District was 2.6 percent in 2005-06, Superintendent Paul Dugan said.

"Certainly, you have to question the accuracy of the data, especially with regard to Washoe County School District students. But despite that, I am very concerned about both our dropout and graduation rates," he said. "While someone may want to argue the methodology being used, the bottom line is there are too many dropouts, and that's a challenge we can't ignore."

Dugan said continued emphasis must be on reading and mathematics, and on the need for teachers and staff to develop closer relationships with students.

"We don't lose them when they're 11th-graders," he said. "We're losing them long before that, so we need to pay more attention to them when they enter as freshmen."

On the bright side, Nevada's teen death rate improved from 43rd nationally to 35th, and its teen birth rate improved from 41th to 39th.

Nevada's teen birth rate among females ages 15-19 declined by 19 percent, dropping from 63 births per 1,000 in 2004 for that age group down to 51 per 1,000.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)