The Cook County Board President, a former teacher, said her connection to the education system now comes through the jails.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, a former teacher, likes to say that she's still an educator, but one with a temp job.
Preckwinkle on Wednesday donned both caps when she commented on a new report on high school dropouts as part of a policy forum at The Union League Club of Chicago, at 65 West Jackson Blvd.
"I took my experiences in the classroom with me when I was elected alderman in 1991," she said.
Now that she's County Board President, she has a whole other perspective.
"Now ... by biggest connection to our education system is through our criminal justice system," she said before rattling off statistics about Cook County's jail system.
Preckwinkle said the failures of the school systems are impacting tax payers in the form of incarceration fees for dropouts.
There's evidence of that in a new report by the Alternative Schools Network that says high school dropouts, on average, cost society more than $70,000 during their working years in terms of benefits they receive versus taxes they contribute. Meanwhile high school graduates contribute about $236,000, on average.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and Illinois State Board of Education Chairman Gery Chico joined Preckwinkle at the forum titled "Re-Enrolling Out of School Youth: A State, County and City Action Blueprint" held at 12:30 p.m.
The cost to taxpayers includes public assistance. More than 30 percent of dropouts in Illinois receive food stamps, compared with about 17 percent of high school graduates.
The research, which analyzed U.S. Census Bureau statistics from 2009 and 2010, was prepared by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. The findings were discussed with city leaders, education experts, politicians and Chicago Public Schools leaders Wednesday during an education summit.
Statewide, about 13 percent of all 19-to-24-year-olds don't have a regular diploma, researchers said. The percentage is higher in the city Chicago, at around 16 percent.
The research showed that gender and racial disparities persist among dropouts. Among the 15 percent of 19-to-24-year-olds in Chicago without high school diplomas, 19 percent are male and 10 percent are female. Thirty percent of Hispanic males and 27 of black males in that age group lack diplomas.
The report said about 15 percent of 18- to 34-year-old males who dropped out of high school were incarcerated as of 2010. Almost 29 percent of black males in that age group spent time in jail, compared with 3 percent of all male high school graduates.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.