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LIFT Academy lowering city’s dropout rates and social costs

The staff of LIFT Academy
The staff of LIFT Academy Courtesy LIFT Academy

With limited economic mobility a major concern for Charlotte’s leaders, it appears some of the best work being done to combat the problem is going on at LIFT Academy, a small satellite campus for West Charlotte High.

LIFT Academy is funded through Project LIFT, the five-year public-private partnership aimed at boosting struggling westside schools. The LIFT Academy campus, located off West Boulevard, is doing yeoman’s work on this critical issue.

It has helped lift West Charlotte High’s graduation rate from an alarming 56 percent in 2012 to 78 percent in 2014. How? By eliminating the big-campus distractions that sidetrack so many at-risk youth, for one. And by employing an intensive, flexible school day keyed to computer-driven coursework and invidualized help. It takes kids who are at least two years behind academically and helps them make up their missing academic credits.

Similar dropout prevention programs have operated elsewhere locally through Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. This seems a relatively rare instance, however, of a dropout prevention program being tied to one specific high school.

We all know that this kind of program doesn’t come cheap. The full pricetag for Project LIFT, which aims to target West Charlotte High and all of its feeder schools for help, has been pegged at $55 million.

If you think that sounds like an ungodly sum of money, consider this: A 2011 Columbia University study estimated that, for each person ages 16 to 24 who isn’t in school and doesn’t have a job, the cost to society is $235,680 in lifetime payments for welfare, food stamps, criminal justice costs and medical care.

That’s the cost per youngster. Multiply it by the 6.7 million such youths in America at the time of the study, and you arrive at a staggering $1.6 trillion pricetag. Now consider that the LIFT Academy has cranked out 120-plus graduates in the past two years (this year’s class included), and you’ve already got a savings to Charlotte of at least $28.3 million.

How much does the LIFT Academy cost? It fluctuates, but for next year, Project LIFT’s leader, Denise Watts, says she’s budgeting it at $674,000.

I don’t care if you’re liberal, conservative, libertarian or socialist. That’s money well spent. Charlotte’s reaping a fantastic return on the investment. Eric Frazier

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