Editorial: A cash carrot for students

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Would students in the stateís public schools work harder if they had a $1,000 carrot dangling in front of them each school year?
Are such incentives even feasible for a state with 1.4 million students?
Thatís the question Sen. Fletcher Hartsell and others want a legislative study commission to investigate over the next two years. Hartsell introduced a bill last month to create the Innovations in Education Legislative Study Commission, which would have a budget of $100,000 over two years.
Raise your eyebrows if you will, but think about it. What problems plague the schools and hold students back? To name a few, high dropout rates, discipline problems, lack of motivation and lack of parental involvement. The promise of a $1,000 check at the end of the school year might indeed motivate students ó and their hitherto uninvolved parents ó to participate in the education process. And the investment would be well worth it to the state if the students go on to be productive, law-abiding citizens.
Financial rewards already await students who earn a high school diploma. According to one Census report, the average annual income for a high school dropout in 2005 was $17,299, while high school graduates earned $26,933 ó a difference of $9,634. College graduates averaged more than $50,000.
Unfortunately, those are very distant goals for a young person whose mind is wandering in third grade ó or 11th grade. Even a $1,000 check at the end of the school year might require more delayed gratification than some kids can muster. They live in the here and now, as their parents often do.
But Hartsell didnít invent the concept, and successful efforts in other parts of the country might indeed be worthy of study. The Harvard Education Letter lists several in one report. ěMiddle-school students in Washington, D.C., can bank as much as $1,500 per year for high grades, good attendance, and exemplary behavior, including wearing their school uniforms each day,î the report says. ěIn Chicago, ninth and tenth graders can earn up to $200 every five weeks. Flunk one class and you lose all your earnings for that grading period, but ace your classes all year and you can earn up to $2,000. Half is payable at the end of the year ó but to collect the other half, you have to stay in school until graduation.î
The Department of Justice says the average annual operating cost per state inmate in 2001 was $22,650. Such figures are often cited when schools want to raise money for dropout prevention programs. Hereís one that would put the money directly in the hands of students who apply themselves. Itís worth considering.