Polis renews fight to lower school dropout rate

Rep. Jared Polis has held numerous public events recently in Colorado. (Image: AP via Politico)

The number-one factor fueling high school dropouts across the country is pregnancy and parenthood, a problem Colorado Congressman Jared Polis hopes to address by reintroducing his Pregnant and Parenting Students Access to Education Act. He pitched for the bill Thursday at Denver’s Florence Crittenton High School, a unique facility that provides the kind of “wraparound services” like daycare and counseling that make it possible for young parents to stay in school. Polis says that if the country is going to address the serious social and economic problems that come of dropouts, then providing support for parenting students is the best way to begin. The bill comes with a $100 million price tag, however, which almost certainly guarantees it will never make it through the deficit-focused program-slashing 112th Congress.

“It’s always tough to make the case for education bills,” Polis staffer Chris Fitzgerald told the Colorado Independent, “but the cost of this bill is nothing compared to the cost of dropouts. This is an investment in the nation’s economy. Students without a high school diploma struggle to win higher-paying jobs. You want to keep these kids in school. This is money well spent.”

The national dropout rate is roughly 8 percent and, in Colorado last year, the public school dropout rate was 3 percent or roughly something like 6,500 students.* Many of those young people are teen parents at sea in a recession-racked economy where even highly trained professionals are casting about to find well-paid work.

Florence Crittenton High is run by nonprofit Florence Crittenton Services of Colorado. Communications Manager Felix Ortiz told the Colorado Independent that the main thing Polis’s bill would do for the school, for example, would be to fund crucial data tracking.

“Right now it’s nonexistent,” he said. “The bill would provide funds for a dedicated staffer.”

Ortiz said detailed information revealing the contours of young parents’ lives would translate to successful programming.

“With good data, you come to know which social services are most needed. You see who drops out and who comes back and you start to understand why in more detail. You see where best to intervene.

“When a certain kind of childcare is available, do students come back to school? If the young father has to work or loses a job, is that when most of the moms leave school?”

As Ortiz and Fitzgerald are quick to note, the point of Polis’s bill is really to bring more– or even some– of the kind of services available at Florence Crittenton to more schools in Colorado and around the country.

“The dropout problem is in Polis’s district. It’s in Colorado. It’s everywhere. Everywhere,” said Fitzgerald.

* State dropout calculations include students in grades 7 through 12 and the exact population of students enrolled in 7 through 12 is hard to find. For this story, we estimated only the total number of Colorado public high school students and used that as a base. Point is only to demonstrate it’s a significant number of individuals.

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