A few years ago, former Gov. Bob Wise warned that West Virginia's high school dropout rate was around 30 percent -- but state education officials claimed it was just 3 percent. As head of a national school improvement alliance, Wise said 6,900 West Virginia teens quit school in a single year, but state figures said far fewer did.
Well, Wise proved to be wiser. A recent Associated Press analysis said only 70.8 percent of West Virginia seniors graduated on time in the 2008-09 term -- exactly as the ex-governor said.
Meanwhile, there's a silver lining. A tough state crackdown is keeping more teens in school. The graduation rate climbed to 79.3 percent in the 2012-13 term.
This improvement is attributed to several reforms: The Legislature raised the dropout age to 17, which keeps more youths in class until they are near graduation. Lawmakers also cut the number of permissible absences from 10 to five. And many counties hired truancy officers to pursue vagrant students.
Bravo. Keep it up. Push the graduation rate higher. Earning a high school diploma is absolutely essential if young people are to have a future.
Despite the increase, it's a shame that one-fifth of West Virginia teens still flunk out, mostly dooming themselves to poverty and failed lives.
Now that the state recognizes the enormity of the problem, relentless effort must be focused on saving the one-fifth who quit.