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Potential dropouts need this bill

Our position: It’s time for legislators to take this

latest chance to stem Indiana’s high dropout rate

State senators should think about the more than 20,000 Hoosiers who drop out of Indiana’s schools each year – including those the Star Editorial Board introduced to readers last year – when considering House Bill 1347.

There’s DeJuan Daniels, who by age 18 was hanging out on street corners after dropping out of Broad Ripple High School. Or Vanessa Smith, who remembered Arlington High School as more hangout than school; she also eventually dropped out. Then there are James and Julie Johnson, who started studying for GEDs after realizing the true cost of not finishing high school.

Each reflects what has long been the state’s lackadaisical attitude toward dropping out. This attitude includes tolerance of truancy, lack of incentives to remain in school, and limited opportunities to finally finish high school and attend college. Some 23,100 eighth graders from the original Class of 2005 failed to earn a degree.

The state took a giant step toward changing the culture of low educational achievement last year when the General Assembly raised the dropout age from 16 to 18 and added the loss of a driver’s license or work permit to the already staggering consequences of leaving school early. But punishments alone won’t work. At-risk students must be enticed to stay the course and graduate.

Such a carrot-and-stick approach can be found in HB 1347, which would also limit the excuses high school students can use for dropping out to illness and financial hardship. A key feature allows dropouts or students bored by traditional high school to attend Ivy Tech or Vincennes University to earn a diploma and an associate degree at the same time. Another aspect of the plan encourages colleges to team up with urban schools and offer dual-credit courses free to poor students.

As state Higher Education Commissioner Stan Jones and Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar point out in a letter to the editor, the bill offers an alternative to the future of welfare dependence, bankruptcy and crime in store for more dropouts. That reality is among the reasons why the state’s economy remains stubbornly stagnant.

HB 1347 isn’t the ultimate cure for the dropout crisis, but is one of many solutions. The time to pass it is now.

—The Indiaanpolis Star

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