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Thursday, Aug. 27, 2009 | As a lifelong educator, I know first-hand the advantages of a good education. Benefiting from increased knowledge and the confidence gained by achieving an educational milestone, those who graduate from high school earn significantly more than their counterparts who leave school early and are more likely to be successful and productive in their careers and actively contribute to their communities.

Dropping out of high school is a societal plague that cannot be ignored. Some studies put California’s graduation rate at merely 71 percent, and that number drops even lower for students of color and the economically disadvantaged.

Studies have shown that those who don’t finish high school will have greater difficulty in finding gainful employment, are more likely to engage in criminal activity and are predisposed to receiving welfare or other forms of public assistance. Failing to graduate from high school not only negatively impacts the individual student, but it directly impacts the economy of California, costing California taxpayers billions of dollars annually.

To help curb California’s high school dropout rates, I have authored AB 374, the “consequences of dropping out” bill, which won approval in the Assembly and is now pending passage in the Senate. This bill would officially inform students and their parents or guardians of the negative consequences of not finishing high school and would also explain alternative educational opportunities available to them. It further ensures that students are aware that they are eligible to be re-enrolled at any time.

The “consequences of dropping out” form created in AB 374 is patterned after the successful efforts of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who developed a similar model while he was CEO of Chicago Public Schools.  In the year following adoption of this form, Chicago experienced a 1.7 percent decline in its dropout rate, retaining nearly 2,000 more students.  California’s version will be made available for use by teachers in the classroom or counselors working with at-risk students.  It will also be posted on the website of the California Department of Education.  While the proposal seems simple in its execution, the real effectiveness is to make clear the harsh reality that dropping out of high school will have harmful consequences to the student and their future prospects.

It is estimated that each year’s cohort of high school dropouts eventually costs the state $9 billion in increased spending for social services, health services, and public safety. In addition to benefiting our most vulnerable students, AB 374 protects the economic future of California, which is dependent upon informed and educated students who can meet and exceed the expectations of an ever-changing workplace.

Locally the South County Economic Development Council is already working to develop a pilot program modeled after AB 374 that would try to achieve similar goals. This proposed program would target and benefit 9th grade students in the Sweetwater Union High School District, the San Ysidro School District and the National City School District.

Effective resolution to critical issues doesn’t always have to be complex or expensive. Oftentimes common sense is the best solution.

AB 374 provides a simple, inexpensive and effective tool to help reduce California’s dropout epidemic.

Marty Block represents the 78th district in the California State Assembly. Got ideas of your own about education? Set the tone with a letter to the editor.

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