This week, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) along with Senators Al Franken (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representative Dale Kildee in the House of Representatives, reintroduced the Reengaging Americans In Serious Education by Uniting Programs (RAISE UP) Act (S. 1279 /H.R. 2358) which aims to re-connect our disadvantaged youth with education and workforce assistance. Where the current environment for youth outcomes is focused on dropout prevention mechanisms and the looming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA), programs for dropout recovery should also be further emphasized and implemented.

With public high schools always facing pressure to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under No Child Left Behind, recovering dropouts is usually a distant after-thought for schools. However, with legislation such as the Raise Up Act, we begin to realign some of our focus on disconnected youth – our young people, those between the ages 16-24 who remain disconnected from education and our workforce. When looking at the statistics on this specific population, you would think the sense of urgency to finally solve this issue would have been ignited years ago. The following statics will provide some context in order to better comprehend the severity of the issue:

• 1 out of 7 people between the ages of 16-24 are high school dropouts.
• The previous figure only gets worse as 3 out of 10 high schools students do not graduate on time.
• In 2008, the GAO estimated between 2.3 million and 5.2 million disconnected youth.
• Only 37 percent of high school dropouts are steadily employed, and they are more than twice as likely to live in poverty.

While there are several programs throughout the nation that focus on dropout recovery, we still have the need to create a systemic program that identify and locate these students, determine why they dropped out, and connect them to the supports they need to succeed in education and the workforce. If the moral imperative isn’t enough (although it should be), what about the economic one when considering the income earnings and tax revenues that are foregone because we continue to ignore disconnected youth? In a study titled Cities in Crisis 2009, high school dropouts earn less than 6 percent of all dollars earned in the U.S. and in the nation’s 50 largest cities; high school dropouts make $10,000 less per year than high school graduates, and $34,000 less than college graduates. While President Obama still highlights his goal to have the United States as the nation with the greatest number of college graduates by 2020, something which will be harder to achieve if we ignore this vast pool of untapped talent.

It is legislation such as the RAISE UP Act that provides youth outside of traditional systems – with education, workforce, and wraparound support services to place them on pathways towards self-sufficiency. Wraparound supports may include academic services (credit recovery, curriculum interventions, college and career counseling), social support services (physical and mental health, child care, and housing), and work-based services (apprenticeships, skill training and job placement). What also makes this an effective bill is its targeted focus on communities where the rates of dropping out and joblessness are disproportionately high.

By challenging high school dropouts to attain a secondary school credential, a postsecondary credential, and a family supporting career – the RAISE UP Act will provide these young people that are sometimes forgotten about, with the community support needed to succeed.