Graduation Promise Act to Target Secondary Education
By Anthony Zei
October 12, 2009
Senator Jeff Bingaman (NM) introduced the Graduation Promise Act (GPA) on September 23, which is intended to boost high school graduation rates and produce graduates fit for either postsecondary education or the world of work. Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) and Senators Christopher Dodd (CT), Patty Murray (WA), Jack Reed (RI), Sherrod Brown (OH), Robert Casey (PA), Jeff Merkley (OR) and Al Franken (MN) cosponsored the bill. Consideration of the bill will follow reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) but popular backing in the Senate has already been coupled with the enthusiasm from five national education organizations, including the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Everyone Graduates Center.
Over a decade ago, Congress set the national goal of reaching a 90 percent high school graduation rate. Far from that mark, the United States is faced with a poorly-performing high school population, in which one-third of the students do not graduate. Another third of the students graduate unequipped to join the college or workplace environment, leaving only one-third of students who complete high school in four years ready to start work or begin a postsecondary education.
It is equally necessary to consider the lower wages and limited employment opportunities faced by high school dropouts. Millions of young people are driven towards poverty and unemployment with little chance of securing a job offering an adequate living-wage or the opportunity of upward mobility.
Furthermore, high schools are the recipient of only about ten percent of ESEAís Title I funding. In FY2009, $18 billion went to grades Pre-K-6 and $21 billion to postsecondary education, with a relatively modest $6 billion for middle and high schools. It follows accordingly that the United States ranks 17th amongst worldwide high school graduation rates.
The GPA would go a long way in addressing issues ranging from lackluster academic performance to funding shortages. Title I of the bill provides $2.4 billion to states through a High School Improvement and Dropout Reduction Fund. Title II allocates $60 million for competitive grants to be used for the development, implementation and replication of effective models of secondary schools.
With the goal of establishing a federal presence in secondary education success; the bill intends to create an intergovernmental partnership focused on strengthening the lowest-performing high schools; to build school improvement capacity while implementing research-based interventions; to help states better identify and ameliorate the lowest-performing schools; and to expand the research and development necessary to establish an ample supply of effective secondary school models.
Deliberate targeting and funding of those secondary schools with the lowest academic performance represents movement in an effective direction given that over 50 percent of dropouts are produced in just over ten percent of the nationís high schools. Though the FY2010 education budget has yet to be passed by Congress, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will be reauthorized and the No Child Left Behind Act will be rewritten.