Texas high school dropout rates rise, experts blame the pandemic

The high school dropout rate is increasing in Texas schools, and officials say the COVID-19 pandemic is to blame. 

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Since 2020, the pandemic forced schools to close and students to switch to virtual learning. The impact it's had on graduation rates in the State of Texas is alarming. Especially for education advocates like Bob Sanford, president and CEO of Children at Risk, a non-profit focused on improving the quality of life for children and teens. 

"We should be horrified, and we really should be afraid for our economic future," Sanford said. 

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According to the Texas Education Agency, the number of drop-outs jumped nearly 34 percent during the 2020-2021 school year with high schools seeing the highest increase.  

"When we're putting everyone in front of a video camera, and they may or may not be any teachers checking on them or any interaction, what we're seeing is those kids just became completely unengaged," Sanford added. "They can keep their cameras on and still be there, but really most of those kids just checked out."

Sanford says every grade level has been negatively impacted by the pandemic and that if something doesn't change we can expect the effects of these pandemic drop-outs for years to come.

"The numbers are staggering; you have to look at Houston's School District where they're missing upwards of 30,000 students that used to be there but aren't there anymore. When we see kids underperforming in middle school, they are much more likely to not do well in high school and then drop out." 

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Sanford says in order to get students back on the right track, going back to normal isn't going to work. He believes it's going to take a complete revamping of education as we know it. 

"We're going to have to do whatever we can to really get them engaged," he said. "And frankly it's going to have to be fun, it's not going to be these academic boot camps that people have proposed, we're going to have experiential learning focusing on the child."


Texas received more than $6 billion in ESSER funds, meant to provide financial relief to schools following the pandemic, as well as $12.4 billion from the American Rescue Plan. Advocates say they hope to see these funds go to creating a more hands-on and engaging learning environment for all students, but especially those in underserved communities.