From Dropout to Diploma: Reengaging and Reenrolling High School Dropouts to Transform Colorado’s Workforce Sunny Deyé Public Priorities for the 21st Century, PSC 5374 Policy Recommendation Prepared for Colorado Governor and U.S. Senate Candidates May 9, 2010 State Policy Environment Governor Bill Ritter's January 11, 2007, State of the State speech: Announced goal to cut the state dropout rate in half within ten years Colorado is making progress: 2008 legislation creating the School Counselor Corps Grant Program 2009 legislation creating the Colorado Office of Dropout Prevention and Student ReEngagement within the Colorado Department of Education Policy Gap - Dropout Recovery While ongoing programs are seeing positive effects (see the March 2010 Policy Report to the Joint Education Committee), there exists a gap in policy with regard to reenrolling students who have already dropped out. The state’s needs for an educated, wellprepared workforce demand that these students be brought back into the system and provided with necessary support to graduate with a high school diploma The social and economic costs of high school dropouts Dropouts from Colorado’s Class of 2009 alone will cost the state nearly $4.5 billion in lost wages, taxes, and productivity over their lifetimes. High school dropouts are also the most vulnerable to a struggling economy. July 2009 unemployment rates: Dropouts - 15.4% High School Grads - 9.4% Some College or Associate's Degree - 7.9% Bachelor's Degree or Higher - 4.7% Good news Research indicates that high school dropouts eventually want to earn a diploma and that they will work hard to get it. State strategies to reengage and reenroll high school dropouts Key state policy choices revolve around three issues: Who can provide services and receive funding for returning students; Flexibility in the hours and times of day students are required to be seated in a classroom; and The maximum age limit to which free education must be provided. Funding State funding streams and accountability systems are often structured in a way that discourages dropout recovery Who can provide services to returning students and how they will be funded? Colorado should consider implementing policies that: Permit cost-sharing among programs; Allow flexibility across eligibility requirements to better serve youth in certain targeted communities; and Recognize and support the role of community-based organizations in helping more students graduate by allowing them to compete for funds or be eligible recipients Examples - Oregon (funding follows student) vs. Texas (funding remains in school district) Dropout recovery should be an attractive option for school districts but not mandated Flexibility Successful dropout recovery programs are flexible with regard to “seat time” - the hours and times of day students are required to be seated in a classroom to meet state attendance requirements and qualify for state education funding dollars. The state is well on its way toward standards-based reform with the Preschool to Postsecondary Alignment Act and is wellpositioned to dramatically rethink the traditional high school model. Eliminating seat time requirements altogether cuts to the heart of two problems: A student who fails a class is unlikely to repeat the class (same teacher, books, environment) and somehow magically pass it the second time; Seat time requirements are especially problematic for dropout recovery programs where students often work during the day and take classes either during the evening or weekends, or even online. Colorado students should be able to earn credit based on proficiency rather than seat time. Upper Age Limit “Free education,” also referred to as “statutory age,” refers to the ages in which a person must be admitted to a public school by law without charge. Colorado's is age 21. In 2007, Texas became the first state in the nation to allow students up to age 26 to be admitted to school districts in order to complete the requirements for a high school diploma The law doesn't obligate districts to enroll older students Districts that choose to participate are not required to continue serving older students who become discipline problems The law requires them to keep older students who have been out of school for three or more years separate from students who are 18 or younger. State budget concerns are biggest hurdle - but a quick look at the long-term impacts of high school dropouts on the state’s economy provides the clear justification to spend more money helping students graduate. Low- and No-Cost Options: Public Recognition / Statewide Campaign Not all efforts to recover dropouts need be costly - simply being recognized for good work can be a great motivator for school districts and individual schools. Colorado might consider instituting an annual recognition program that highlights the efforts of schools and districts making progress on dropout recovery efforts. This would also allow the state an annual forum to share best practices, provide recognition to faculty and staff, and encourage other schools and districts to increase their dropout prevention and recovery efforts. Colorado should also develop a statewide campaign that builds on current work and sets the stage for additional investments in the programs and policies that are working - especially as the state budget begins to recover. Why This Matters Colorado must focus on reengaging students who have already dropped out of school, not only to help meet the goal of cutting dropout rates in half by 2017 – but also to improve the state’s future workforce and social fabric. Researchers have associated increased education with: Improved health Increased civic participation Higher rates of marriage Decreased incidence of divorce and births outside marriage Improved educational achievement for subsequent generations The Colorado Promise The Colorado Promise was Governor Bill Ritter’s campaign platform in 2006, stated as “the promise to our children and our grandchildren that we will leave them a better Colorado. It’s the promise that Colorado reaches its fullest potential. It’s the promise of a brighter Colorado in the 21st century.” The Colorado Promise emphasizes improving the state education system and stimulating Colorado’s economy to attract new jobs. Colorado has made great strides, and now must turn its attention to young adults who have dropped out and who want to drop back in – to earn a high school diploma, to become contributing citizens of Colorado, and to ensure that the state has the workforce necessary to compete in the 21st century economy.