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Rice-Turner Bill To Help Keep Kids In School Advances

Measure Would Create Office to Focus on Dropout Prevention, Help Reengage Out-of-School Youth

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Ronald L. Rice and Shirley K. Turner which would focus State resources on reducing the student dropout rate and helping to make it easier for out-of-school minors to reengage with school was approved by the Senate Education Committee today by a vote of 4-1.

“There’s simply no better foundation for success later in life than a decent education early in life,” said Senator Rice, D-Essex. “While New Jersey has a mandate, under its State Constitution to provide for a ‘thorough and efficient’ education for all its students, such a mandate does little good for kids who’ve dropped out of school. This bill would direct the State Department of Education to begin looking at the issues that either play into or spin out of a student’s decision to drop out, and to begin making policy recommendations so we can ensure all kids have a chance at a good education.”

“While New Jersey’s overall high school graduation rate is good, we have to do a better job in the communities where the dropout rate far exceeds the Statewide average,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer and Hunterdon, and Vice Chair of the Committee. “This is about making sure the next generation of New Jerseyans, regardless of where they live or attend school, have the skills and the education they need to succeed. We cannot stand idly by while some school districts in the State face seriously high dropout rates.”

The bill, S-134, would establish the Office of Dropout Prevention and Reengagement of Out-of-School Youth within the Department of Education, along with the Student Dropout Prevention Task Force. The two new agencies would be tasked with creating a comprehensive statewide plan to identify and address the underlying factors which lead to students dropping out of school, the issues they face after they drop out, and the challenges they encounter when they attempt to reenroll and continue their education. The Task Force would be required to issue its recommendations for action to the Governor and the Legislature no later than 9 months following its organization.

The bill sponsors noted that, while New Jersey currently has the highest high school graduation rate in the country at 87 percent, there is still room for improvement, particularly in poorer urban areas and among minority students, where the dropout rates are much higher that the State average. For example, the graduation rate from Newark Public Schools, according to district officials, is around 55 percent, while the graduation rate for Trenton Public Schools is around half, according to statistics compiled by the State Department of Education.

“It would be easy for parents in suburban districts to say that the plight of dropouts in urban communities isn’t their problem,” said Senator Turner. “However, we know that students that drop out of school face significantly reduced earning potential, and stand a greater chance of needing to access many of the State’s safety net programs in order to survive. Studies have shown that high school graduates, on average, earn $16,000 more a year than school dropouts, and contribute more in tax revenue and general economic output to the State’s fiscal well-being. We’re all in this fight together.”

“It’s unacceptable that there’s such a disparity between the graduation rates in well-off school districts, and the graduation rates in poorer, urban districts, many of which are majority-minority districts,” said Senator Rice. “We have to take a serious look at all the issues which play a role in the increased dropout rate in many of our State’s cities, including the impact of gang crime, the inability to access higher education, and the quality of education that students receive. This is not just an urban community problem – this is a Statewide problem, and it demands a Statewide solution.”

The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, before going to the full Senate for consideration.

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