Gov.: High school dropout rate hits all-time low

SPRINGFIELD—Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich announced the dropout rate for Illinois students the past year showed the greatest one-year improvement since 1994— the year the state began tracking dropout information.

As the dropout rate dropped to an all-time low of 4 percent, the graduation rate increased to 87.4 percent, the highest rate in the state’s history. These improvements follow the implementation of a new Illinois law increasing the dropout age in Illinois from 16 to 17. The law, which the governor signed in August 2004, took effect Jan. 1, 2005.

“A high school diploma opens the door to college and the work force,” Blagojevich said. “Without diplomas, our youth will have a hard time succeeding in life. Last year, I signed a law increasing the dropout age to 17, giving schools more time to reach struggling students. This year, we kept more kids in school than ever before, and we need to do everything we can to help this trend continue.”

High school graduates have much higher earning potential than high school dropouts. The Manhattan Institute’s November 2002 study found that while Illinois’ graduation rate of 77 percent was higher than the national average of 69 percent, the state’s African-American and Latino students had only a 57 percent graduation rate.

The 2000 U.S. Census found more than 200,000 people in Illinois between the ages 16 and 24 dropped out of high school. The report also found that in Illinois, one out of every two Latinos and one out of every five African Americans in the 16 to 24 age range is a high school dropout. In the 2001-2002 school year, 17,400 students—more than 17 percent—dropped out of Chicago Public Schools.

The new law raised the minimum dropout age from 16 years to 17 years, giving parents and schools an additional year and additional opportunities to keep students in the classroom. The law requires students who have received three truant notices to perform 20 to 40 hours of community service over a period of 90 days.

If after performing community service, a student continues to be truant, the truant officer or the regional superintendent of schools (in the case of a district with no truant officer) has two options—make a complaint to the state’s attorney against the person who has custody of the student, or conduct a truancy mediation and encourage the student to enroll in a graduation incentives program.

Anyone younger than age 18 is eligible for graduation incentives programs if he or she is considered a dropout, has been suspended or expelled, is pregnant or is a parent, has been assessed as chemically dependent or is enrolled in a bilingual education or LEP program.

The new law also expands the graduation incentives program for students at risk of dropping out, inviting school-based programs, vocational education programs, community college classes, GED preparation courses, and career training run by private businesses to provide additional options for students not succeeding in traditional schools. In addition, pupils enrolled in such programs are eligible for reimbursement, subject to appropriations.

By the numbers

Dropout rates in Illinois by year are as follows: 2005, 4 percent; 2004, 4.6 percent; 2003, 4.9 percent; 2002, 5.1 percent; 2001, 5.7 percent; 2000, 5.8 percent; 1999, 5.9 percent; 1998, 6.2 percent; 1997, 6.4 percent; 1996, 6.5 percent; 1995, 6.8 percent; and 1994, 7 percent.

From the Sept. 21-27, 2005, issue

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