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RICE-TURNER BILL TO HELP KEEP KIDS IN SCHOOL APPROVED IN BUDGET COMMITTEE

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Location: Trenton, New Jersey

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 Budget and Appropriations Committee earlier this week by a vote of 9-0, with three abstentions.

"In some of our state's urban communities, the dropout rate is reaching epidemic proportions," said Senator Rice, D-Essex. "While the State Constitution guarantees a "thorough and efficient' education for all New Jersey students, such a mandate does little good for students who've dropped out of school. Through this legislation, we're directing the Department of Education to look at the problem, and make policy recommendations to deal with the issues that play into and spin out of a student's decision to drop out."

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.

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% of the crimes in the United States, and dropouts make up nearly half of the heads of households that are on welfare.

"New Jersey's dropout epidemic is most prominent in our urban communities, but that doesn't mean that suburban school districts shouldn't pay attention," said Senator Turner, D-Mercer and Hunterdon. "Over the course of their lives, students who've dropped out of school earn significantly less and stand a far greater chance of requiring some form of public assistance in order to make ends meet. Studies have shown that high school graduates, on average, earn $16,000 more a year than dropouts, and contribute more in tax revenue and general economic output to the State's overall fiscal well-being. We have to recognize that we all have a stake in reducing the dropout rate in New Jersey."

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.


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