Education for disadvantaged youth

Sadly, many of our children do not complete even their basic high school education. Over 5 million young people between the ages of 18 and 24 have not graduated from high school, and millions more are neither in school nor working. According to Editorial Projects in Education, in our home state of Michigan 30 percent of students do not graduate from high school within four years. It used to be that you could graduate from high school on a Monday and start working for the auto industry on a Tuesday. But as our country battles back from an unprecedented economic downturn, a college diploma is becoming increasingly important to compete in the global economy, putting young people without a high school degree at a distinct disadvantage.

No one deserves to have his economic future restricted because of difficulties he faced during his early years. Many students leave school due to economic disadvantages or because they lack a nurturing home environment. Many children who are aging out of foster care find themselves without a solid support system, and some drop out as a result, leaving them without the skills to obtain gainful employment. Only 37 percent of high school dropouts nationwide are steadily employed, and they are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as their peers. These young people deserve a second chance to obtain their degree and get back on the path to success.

That is why we joined together to introduce the Reengaging Americans In Serious Education by Uniting Programs, or RAISE UP Act. This critical legislation establishes a grant program to help disadvantaged youth complete their education and plan for a career. Due to the dedication of our Michigan colleague, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, this legislation has already been introduced in the Senate.

Currently, many communities have an array of services that help support young people who have dropped out of high school. However, few areas have a comprehensive and coordinated strategy for reengaging disconnected youth. The RAISE UP Act would change that by coordinating these existing, but often disparate, resources into intentional dropout recovery systems at the local level. Funds would be used by local partnerships to identify high school dropouts and connect them with comprehensive services —academic assistance, workforce preparation, and wraparound services, including mental health, drug treatment, housing and other services. This will help disadvantaged youth secure their high school diploma, go on to earn a postsecondary credential and gain the necessary skills for a career. Young people between the ages of 14 and 24 would be eligible for this support system, including runaway and homeless youth, children in foster care and those aging out of care, and young people with disabilities.

This legislation would not only support individual students, but it would help ensure that America has the most educated and skilled workforce possible. In the nation’s 50 largest cities, students who complete high school earn an average of $10,000 more per year than those who drop out, and college graduates earn an average of $34,000 more. RAISE UP will help ensure that more students are finishing high school and going on to pursue postsecondary education, strengthening America’s workforce and our economy as a whole.

The strength of this legislation is evident in its broad support from nearly 80 organizations, including First Focus, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, The Corps Network, Center for Law and Social Policy, National Youth Employment Coalition, Campaign for Youth, and United Way.

The best economic stimulus package for our young people is a diploma and the investments we make in the education of our children today will decide the future of our economic prosperity. By supporting disadvantaged young people and helping them re-engage with their education we are not only benefiting these students, we are ensuring that America’s current and future workforce has the skills and education necessary to succeed. That is certainly the kind of boost our economy could use.

Kildee is chairman of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education and Ehlers is ranking member of the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education