Best of #StateReads: On Further Review, Georgia Dropout Rate Doubles

  • August 22, 2012
  • By Daniel C. Vock

This week's collection of #StateReads uncovers a Georgia high school dropout rate twice as high as previously thought, explores the campaign strategy of an Iowa Supreme Court judge who may lose his seat for a ruling allowing gay marriage and reports on problems of lax enforcement by state workplace safety regulators.

These examples of extraordinary journalism about state government were recommended in tweets using the #StateReads hashtag on Twitter and in email submissions to

“Georgia failed to count thousands of high school dropouts” — Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Twice as many Georgia high school students in the Class of 2011 dropped out than the state reported, write Nancy Badertscher and Kelly Guckian (@kguckian). The reporters used open-record requests to double check the state's numbers, following a move by the federal government to improve the accuracy of dropout rate data. Previously, schools could count students as transfers without verifying that the students who left actually enrolled in another district. “For years,” Badertscher and Guckian write, “inflated graduation rates helped state and local districts meet political pressures and claim success. But undercounting the number of dropouts did nothing for the kids who quit school unnoticed.”

“Low-key response to attacks may hurt Justice Wiggins” — The Des Moines Register

A judge on the Iowa Supreme Court could lose a retention election this fall because he concurred with a unanimous ruling to allow same-sex marriage. But the fact that Justice David Wiggins is doing little to defend himself in the campaign could be the decision that seals Wiggins' fate, writes Jeff Eckhoff (@jeffeckhoff). Even after three of his colleagues were ousted two years ago, Wiggins has done little to campaign and is reluctant to even ask people for their votes. That stands in stark contrast to three judges in Florida who also face an organized effort to oust them. Those judges, Eckhoff writes, have already raised $1 million for a fall advertising campaign.

“Some state senators voted to ban gifts, then accepted them” — California Watch

State senators who voted in May to ban gifts from lobbyists later accepted gifts of tickets to golf tournaments, concerts and Walt Disney amusement parks, writes Will Evans (@willCIR). The gift ban passed the upper chamber with large majorities, but it died in an Assembly committee last week without a vote. Opponents said it would cost the state too much money to enforce. But, Evans noted, several of the legislators on that panel also benefited from gifts from AT&T, Comcast and Disney.

“Kentucky death case: Another black eye for state workplace safety enforcement” — Center for Public Integrity

Kentucky took a rare step of reinstating fines for a tire manufacturer in a case concerning the death of a 39-year-old worker at one of its factories. But the story of Tina Hall's death at the Toyo Automotive Parts facility shows how lax state enforcement of workplace safety laws can be, reports Jim Morris for the Center for Public Integrity (@publici). The manufacturer was originally cited for 16 violations and fined $105,500, but the state eventually dropped the accusations and the entire fine. It reinstated them only when it found violations of its agreement with Toyo this year. Morris notes that regulators in other states, including Nevada, North Carolina and South Carolina, have also come under recent scrutiny.

“Retooling the death penalty debate” — The Crime Report

Family members of murder victims often emerge as vocal and visible supporters of the death penalty, but recently some of them have emerged as proponents of repealing capital punishment, reports Graham Kates (@GrahamKates). When Connecticut lawmakers considered repealing the death penalty, 179 members of victims' families signed a letter in favor of abolishing it. Some are speaking out against the death penalty in other states, including in Nebraska.