Heck with immigration reform. If Republicans want to pick up future voters, then they should concentrate on trying to improve the 47 percent high school graduation rate in Buffalo, N.Y.

Buffalo is one example of many U.S. cities that graduated less than half its students last year — Detroit, Denver, and Los Angeles all struggle with near 50 percent graduation rates, according to a report by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center. Nationally, only seven of 10 ninth graders today will get high school diplomas.

U.S. public schools are failing, leading to higher unemployment, and welfare rolls. High-school dropouts make up close to half the households on welfare, and are a drain on government resources, collecting an average of $70,850 more in benefits in their lifetimes than they'll pay in taxes.

Not surprisingly, the majority of welfare recipients, 80 percent, identify as Democrats, according to a poll done by Syracuse University. A National Public Radio survey found similar results, reporting 72 percent of those on long-term unemployment support Democrats.

The more the U.S. can do to equip its students with the tools needed to graduate, find jobs, and be independent of government assistance, the better off the nation and the Republican Party will be.

House Republicans seem to get this. In July, they passed an education bill that gives states more authority over their schools — allowing them to set standards, evaluate teachers, reprimand failing schools, and allocate budgets without federal strings attached.

The bill's reasoning is a top down, one-size-fits-all,federal approach doesn't adequately address the needs of different educational systems. The legislation demands localleaders take back their city school systems — making them work for their children, not the system itself. It depends oneveryday citizens, not bureaucrats in Washington, to know what's best for their community.

The bill hasn't received as much attention as immigration reform, which is too bad, because it directly affects our youth and is long overdue. It's the first piece of comprehensive education legislation that's passed Congress in a dozen years.

The last bill was President George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) in 2001 — a law that both Republicans and Democrats agree is ineffective and unpopular.

NCLB has been criticized as too punitive, tying federal testing goals with mandated actions — which may or may not work for the school, but always cost money. Across the nation, 82 percent of schools where failures under NCLB standards in 2011, according to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Education reform is the type of legislation the GOP must and should champion to revitalize their image as compassionate conservatives and to connect with black and Latino voters, whose youth are the most susceptible to high school dropout and failure rates.

The bill the House passed isn't perfect, however, it's a starting point. It eliminates the more harsh aspects of NCLB and takes power away from Barack Obama's administration, who's used stimulus money and federal waivers tied to NCLB failure as a method to coerce states to adopt their "Common Core," curriculum -- another Washington-knows-best approach.

Today, about one-third of Americans are dependent on the federal government — more than any other time in U.S. history.

Once that number creeps to 51 percent — which it will do if our education system isn't fixed — there will be a builtin constituency striving to advance entitlement programs, regardless of the country's ability to pay. Education reform is a basic, critical step needed to save the U.S. from economic ruin — and perhaps also, the future of the Republican Party.