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Recovery High Schools

February 28, 2022
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Brittany Whitley and Dr. Alan Moss

Recovery high schools are diploma-granting secondary schools that exclusively serve students recovering from substance abuse and dependency. There are fewer than 50 recovery schools in the United States, and only one in Missouri (St. Louis). Although per-student costs at recovery high schools are higher than traditional high schools, students who attend recovery high schools are more likely to graduate and less likely to relapse than their peers at district high schools. Senate Bill 769 and House Bill 1753 introduced in the 2022 Missouri Legislative Session would allow for the establishment of public recovery high schools in Missouri. In the proposed legislation, up to four pilot programs could be established by school districts (or groups of school districts) in metropolitan areas. The resident (or sending) school district would be responsible for paying either the student tuition of the recovery school student or the state adequacy target plus local effort, whichever is lower.  


  • Substance use during adolescence is more common among students who drop out of high school and has been associated with substance abuse later in life.
  • Around 17,000 Missourians between ages 12-17 have a substance use disorder (SUD).
  • Most recovery high schools are publicly funded. Missouri currently has one privately funded recovery high school in St. Louis.
  • Recovery high schools can increase graduation rates and decrease relapse incidence among students.
  • In order to provide the required staff and services, the cost per student tends to be higher at recovery schools. Because each school can only serve a relatively small number of students, there may be limited onsite course offerings.


  • Most information about adolescent drug use relies on self-reports (via surveys), which may underreport the prevalence of drug use (especially illegal drugs) and abuse.
  • Because it has not been possible to randomly assign high school students recovering from substance use disorder to a specific type of high school, research in this area must rely on observational studies and may be influenced by selection bias. Additional studies in recovery schools across diverse regional contexts will be important to understand the magnitude of their impact.


This Note has been updated. You can access the previous version (published March 2021) here.

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