SPRINGFIELD – Legislators, educators, advocates and state agencies came together today at a Back to School Summit sponsored by Governor Rod R. Blagojevich’s recently-appointed Task Force on Re-enrolling Students Who Dropped Out of School to focus on ways to re-enroll students who have dropped out of school.
Over the last few years, Illinois has taken aggressive steps to keep students in school. Gov. Blagojevich signed the law raising the dropout age from 16 to 17. The state has also launched programs such as the Truant Alternative Program and the Optional Education Program to re-enroll students. The state budget includes more than $18 million for these programs as well as an additional $24 million to fund after-school programs throughout the state. Last year, the dropout rate for Illinois students showed the greatest one-year improvement since 1994.
“While we’ve made good progress in making sure kids who are in school stay in school, we need to reach out to re-enroll all those kids who have dropped out,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “That means creating a learning environment that works for them so they can get back on track and get the training and education they’ll need for long-term success.”
More than 210,000 youth nationwide, age 16 through 24, were out of school in 2000 and can be classified as dropouts, according to 2000 Census data. In April, a Time magazine cover story entitled “Dropout Nation” outlined the scope of this crisis, and in a speech last year to the National Education Summit on High Schools, Bill Gates noted “We have one of the highest high school dropout rates in the industrialized world.”
"Today's Summit brings together people from around the state who are committed to working together on this important issue," said Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Chairman Jesse Ruiz. "In Illinois we need to build on what we've achieved in the last few years for students who have dropped out. The challenge is clear. We need a comprehensive plan to re-enroll out of school students so they can reach their full potential and build successful futures."
Illinois State Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago), who gave today’s keynote address, said that the state’s plan for education should “include funding for re-enrolling out of school students as well as accelerating the performance of students who are already in school. Too many students in our state who are eager to re-enroll in school and graduate from high school do not have access to the kind of program they need.”
Chicago Alderman Patrick O’Connor (D-40th Ward), who chairs the City Council’s Education and Child Development committee, emphasizes that there are currently “not enough opportunities and options for students who have dropped out and want to re-enroll. We need to build on what we have accomplished in this area.”
Summit speakers included ISBE Chairman Jesse Ruiz and Senate President Emil Jones. The panel included State Senator Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago); State Representative Monique Davis (D-Chicago); State Representative Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago); Alderman Patrick O’Connor, Chicago Alderman Danny Solis (D-25th Ward), and Chicago Alderman Billy Ocasio (D-26thWard).
The Task Force on Re-enrolling Students Who Dropped Out of School is composed of eight legislators; one representative of the Governor’s office appointed by the Governor, and representatives from the State Board of Education, Department of Human Services, Department of Children and Family Services, Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the Illinois Community College Board. The Task Force also includes 13 other members of the public—four from schools/programs working with students who had left school before earning a high school diploma and nine others appointed by the Governor.
In the next three months, the Task Force will hold five public hearings around the state on addressing the issue of re-enrolling students. The Task Force will also publish an interim report on its findings early in 2007 that will include recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly on ways and means to address the challenge of re-enrolling more students. A final report will be produced by January 2008.