TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez discusses a new initiative to get students who have dropped out to return to school.

Dropouts cost Arizona $7.6 billion, a new study into the cost to the state’s communities says.

In Tucson, the lifetime economic losses from the estimated 1,140 young people who failed to graduate in 2012 amount to $435 million, according to the study released Thursday by several mayors around the state, including Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.

For the towns of Oro Valley and Sahuarita, the lifetime cost amounts to $40 million and $31 million, respectively

The findings of the study, initiated by the Arizona Mayors Education Roundtable with support from the Helios Education Foundation, are “pretty stark,” said Rothschild, who says he hopes the grim statistics will serve as motivation for the community.

“Students who drop out of high school face poor prospects,” Rothschild said. “They’re less likely to find a job, less likely to earn a living wage, more likely to need public assistance, more likely to have poor health and more likely to commit crime. We know there’s a cost to the students themselves from dropping out, but what the study shows is the cost to the community, and it is substantial.”

With a state graduation rate of 80 percent, one in five students are not graduating on time. Cutting the number of dropouts in Tucson in half would generate more than $217 million in economic benefits. That would amount to about $3.8 billion across the state.

Initiatives are underway to address the issue including a Steps to Success walk, scheduled for next month in which Tucson Unified School District officials, Rothschild and other community partners will go door-to-door in hopes of persuading students to return to school.

Early intervention is key as attendance problems are an indicator of whether a student will drop out and begin as early as kindergarten. Placing an emphasis on literacy is also a high priority as those who are not reading proficiently at the end of third grade will face many challenges moving forward in their educational careers.

“When you take a look at the big picture, it’s the difference between Tucson being economically relevant and viable on the state and national level or being irrelevant,” said TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez. “So, it’s not only personal for the students, it’s also important for the community.”

The Mayors Education Roundtable was formed two years ago in an effort to make a difference in communities by working with education systems. The cities involved in the organization are Tucson, Oro Valley, Sahuarita, Avondale, Gilbert, Goodyear, Mesa, Miami, Phoenix and Tempe.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@azstarnet.com or 573-4175. On Twitter @AlexisHuicochea

Education writer for #ThisIsTucson. Mom of one.