Rice-Turner Bill To Help Keep Kids In School Receives Senate Approval

A view of the Senate Chambers from the 2010-2011 Senate Reorganization.

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 today by a vote of 34-1.

“In New Jersey’s urban core, the dropout rate among public school students – particularly minority students – is reaching epidemic proportions,” said Senator Rice, D-Essex. “Through our State’s Constitution, we have guaranteed that every student, regardless of race, creed or color, receive a ‘thorough and efficient’ education and a chance to succeed in our society. Unless we’re willing to look at the underlying socio-economic factors that contribute to the rising dropout rate, we’re failing to live up to our responsibilities to the Constitution and to the kids in our communities.”

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 nine 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.

“While the dropout epidemic is most prominent in our urban communities, the problems created by the high dropout rates in these communities cut across regional boundaries,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer and Hunterdon. “We know that, over the course of their lives, students who drop out earn significantly less and are more likely to depend on public assistance to get by. Studies have shown that high school graduates earn as much as $16,000 more a year, on average, than dropouts and contribute more in tax revenue to their communities. We have to recognize that we’re all in this together when it comes to dealing with the dropout rate in the Garden State and making sure that kids get the education they need to succeed.”

The sponsors added that, according to the website, www.dosomething.org, annually, 1.2 million students drop out in the United States – approximately one student every 26 seconds or 7,000 students a day. Approximately 18,000 to 20,000 New Jersey students fail to graduate annually, most in urban school districts and mostly minority students. High school dropouts commit about 75 percent of the crimes in the United States, and dropouts make up nearly half of the heads of households that are on welfare.

The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

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