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Public Statements

Submitted Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. LANDRIEU. Mr. President, on behalf of myself and my colleagues Senator Lincoln, Senator Chambliss, Senator Shaheen, Senator Murkowski, Senator Barrasso and Senator Byrd, I rise today to submit a resolution in support of the goals and ideals of National Guard Youth Challenge Day and in support of the Youth ChalleNGe program.

Few programs have been as effective in combating the high rate of high school dropouts as the Youth ChalleNGe program.

Established by the National Guard in 1993 to help at-risk youth aged 16-18 who have dropped out or been expelled from school, the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program includes a 5-month residential program and 12-month mentoring program where participants learn life-skills, gain real-life work experience, receive on-the-job training, participate in community service and have the opportunity to earn a high school diploma or GED.

Everyone knows that high school dropouts face much greater challenges than their peers who finish school. Dropouts have an unemployment rate of 40 percent, as compared to the national average of 10 percent. Fifty-four percent of high school dropouts were jobless in an average month during 2008 alone.

One in every three teen mothers is a dropout and one in four babies is born to a high school dropout. Dropouts have a life expectancy that is nine years less than a high school graduate.

While looking for programs that keep students in school, we must also focus on programs that offer our high school dropouts a road back, and the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program is one such program.

The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program has graduated more than 92,850 former high school dropouts from the program to date, with 99 percent of them going on to pursue higher education, a career in the military or employment, according to a recent audit.

The annual cost of graduating one child from the Youth ChalleNGe program is $14,000. Contrasted with the $40,000 it costs to incarcerate that same youth, it is no surprise the program has earned the enthusiastic bipartisan support of governors nationwide.

The program currently operates only 32 programs across 27 states and Puerto Rico. Last year alone, of the 18,701 dropouts who applied to this voluntary program, more than 40 percent were turned away due to lack of funding.

Unfortunately, America has one of the highest dropout rates in the world among developed nations. Nationally, an estimated one-third of high school freshmen do not graduate from high school in four years; in the 50 largest U.S. cities, the dropout rate may be closer to 50 percent. That totals 1.2 million high school dropouts each year.

The soaring dropout rate is a national crisis that costs our economy billions of dollars each year to support dropouts who are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, incarcerated, on public welfare, or teen parents.

The median income of a high school dropout is $18,000, versus $25,000 for a high school graduate, and the annual unemployment rate for dropouts is 40 percent compared with the nationwide rate of 10 percent.

This means that each dropout, over the course of his or her lifetime, contributes $60,000 less in taxes that an individual with a high school degree.

Each class of dropouts costs States $17 billion in publicly subsidized health care costs over the course of their lives.

Individuals lacking a high school education also make up 90 percent of our nation's prison population accounting for $45 billion of the $50 billion spent annually on incarceration.

The economic cost in lost productivity and earnings over the course of a high school dropout's lifetime is $329 billion, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Over the next decade, if current dropout rates persist, the economic loss to our nation will total more than $3 trillion.

Eleven States have requested funding to start a program. Unlike most programs, the Youth ChalleNGe program requires States to match 25 percent of the program's cost with the Federal Government providing 75 percent, and three States with existing programs are seeking funding for additional programs.

The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program changes more than just the cadet; it transforms entire families and communities.

According to the parent of a recent ChalleNGe graduate in Louisiana: ``I had struggled for several years trying to give [my son] what he needed in the way of direction. He had no ambition, no direction, no goals for the future, no interest whatsoever in school, and appeared to have no grasp of how poorly his future looked if he continued on the road he was on. The successes the Youth ChalleNGe program provided gave him a self-confidence I've never seen in him before. He realizes he can achieve anything he wants in life if he is willing to put forth the effort. Thank you for giving me my son back.''

Our nation can no longer afford to lose ground educationally if we are to compete in a global, knowledge-based society. As President Obama noted in his speech, ``In this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than on their potential.'' In order to make that sentiment a reality, we must not only address needed reforms to put our failing schools back on track, but also expand programs that reach out to those youth who dropped out of high school to ensure that they have every chance to succeed. The future of our youth--and our economy--depends on it.

Do not just take my word for it. Tomorrow morning I am hosting a panel and discussion about the Youth ChalleNGe Program in the Russell Building, Room 485 from 10:30 to 11:45. I invite all of my colleagues to meet some of these remarkable young men and women who have made the choice to turn their lives around.

Again, I ask my colleagues to join with me to pass this resolution which shines a much needed light on a program that is truly making a difference in the lives of our greatest natural resource--our children.

This is a happy subject, and one for which I think the Presiding Officer shares my enthusiasm, and that is our support of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program. Tonight we are celebrating at the fifth gala that supports this program, and tomorrow I will be hosting, along with many of our colleagues, a panel about the success of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program.

The Presiding Officer was a Governor before she became a Senator, so she knows very well the challenges of workforce development, moving our young people through high school so they graduate on time with the requisite skills to allow them to be ready to go to college or ready to go to work. Unfortunately, that is not the case in America today with too many of our young people. So we are struggling here in Congress; Governors are looking for programs all over the country; educators are searching for what works.

I am here to tell my colleagues that there is a program that works, and I thank the Presiding Officer for her support. I also wish to thank Senator Lincoln, Senator Chambliss, Senator Shaheen, Senator Murkowski, Senator Barrasso and Senator Byrd for cosponsoring this resolution and for calling attention to the fact that tomorrow is National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Day. But more than joining in this resolution, I hope this Congress, as this appropriations process starts for this year, when looking to find a wise way to spend a dollar, will look to the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program.

This program reaches out in 27 States and Puerto Rico with over 32 programs to kids between the ages of 16 and 18 who have given up on themselves and whose families have given up on them. They haven't been arrested yet. They haven't been incarcerated yet. They haven't gotten into trouble with drugs yet, but they are on the road in that dangerous direction. This program offers them an opportunity to take a different road. It offers them an opportunity to change. I am proud to say that since this program was started here in Congress and in partnership with Governors and nonprofits around the country, we have graduated thousands of children from this program with an almost 95-percent success rate, which with this group is almost unheard of. This is a 17-month program including 5 months of residential schooling followed by 12 months of mentorship. So in 17 months, kids who were headed in the wrong direction are literally turned around and headed in the right direction. That is because it is a combination of all of the best practices: getting them out of their environment and introducing them to a new set of disciplines and rules and regulations. It is not a boot camp. There are not wires around these facilities. These young people can leave any day. It is completely voluntary. But they stay because they know they need the discipline. They know they need the focus. They know our men and women of the National Guard care not just about our country as a whole but about the individual citizens who make up the country. Through our National Guard, men and women give of their time in terms of teaching and training. It is a phenomenal program.

I don't know if the Presiding Officer has attended some of the graduations, but I have, and I think perhaps she has, and many of our colleagues have. They share with me their stories. They say, Senator, I have given speeches at many of my college graduations and at many wonderful, prominent, large high schools, but the graduations that have touched me the most have been the graduations of the Youth ChalleNGe cadets. Sometimes a program will graduate 100 cadets; sometimes smaller programs will graduate 50; but there are always lots of tears of joy in those auditoriums around the country when these cadets graduate.

I will never, ever forget standing in Alexandria, actually Camp Beauregard, right outside of Alexandria, a central Louisiana city. I had given my speech.

I thought it was pretty good, but it wasn't spectacular. It was very good. I heard a grown man behind me sobbing. I thought to myself, I hope I haven't said anything inappropriate in my remarks. He came up to me with these huge arms and hugged me from the back and said, Senator, I have never known my government to do anything good for me--I don't know if I agree with that--but, he said, Today, you have given me my son back. I will never forget that as long as I live. That is what this program means to parents. It is giving them their children back, which is the greatest gift a parent, as the Presiding Officer knows, having four children, can have. These kids are floundering in the regular high schools, not making any sense to them, because we haven't done I think what we should be doing in all cases with them in high school. This program works. Not only does it work for the individual, but it works for our economy.

I wish to read into the Record a few of the statistics about what it means to our country when we save one person from dropping out of high school. These are the statistics. One in every three teen mothers is a dropout from high school. One in four babies born is born to a high school dropout. The National Guard program has graduated more than 92,850 former high school dropouts with 99 percent of them going on to either pursue higher education, a career in the military, or employment, according to a recent audit. The annual cost of graduating one child from this program is $14,000. Contrast that with the $40,000 it costs annually for incarceration of someone who failed to graduate, got on the wrong road, got involved in drugs or in a life of crime. For a $14,000 investment, leveraging the strength of the National Guard, leveraging the hopes and prayers of parents who want so much for their children to turn around, leveraging the power of the individual child knowing something is wrong and wanting to make it right, I couldn't think of a better program than this.

I have spoken personally to Secretary Arne Duncan about this. I have spoken personally on every occasion I can to members of the White House leadership team and the education team and the members of the Defense Appropriations team. So I am hoping we recognize the soaring dropout rate as a national crisis that costs our economy billions of dollars. There are programs that work. Not every program that government invents or frames fails. So for people who say we can't spend any more money, let's spend it on programs such as this. Let's move the money from some programs that aren't working as well to programs such as this and leverage the investments our country is making, whether it is through the National Guard or through other programs.

The median income of a high school dropout is $18,000 versus $25,000 for a high school graduate. Over a lifetime, that amounts to literally millions of dollars in lost employment opportunities.

There are any number of reasons. I think I have explained them fairly well. I will submit a longer statement for the Record. But again, today, we wish to recognize our National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program. We wish to thank the National Guard. Not only are they on the front lines in Iraq and in Afghanistan and everywhere around the world, but they are on the front lines right here, helping us educate future military members, future executives, future workforce leaders, and we are very proud of the leadership of the National Guard.

I wish to thank the Presiding Officer again for her support and for the support of many of our colleagues for this very worthwhile and meritorious program.

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