Gazette opinion: High school gradution initiatives paying off

2014-03-18T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: High school gradution initiatives paying off The Billings Gazette
March 18, 2014 12:00 am

Montana is raising the bar on high school graduation, thanks to new efforts by schools and their communities.

Since Graduation Matters Montana launched, the statewide dropout rate has dropped and graduation rates have risen.

According to the Office of Public Instruction, Montana’s high school dropout rate has decreased from 5 percent in 2009 to 3.6 percent in 2013. The graduation rate has increased from 80.7 percent in 2009 to 84.4 percent in 2013. As a result, 772 fewer students dropped out in 2013 than in 2009.

Denise Juneau, Montana superintendent of public instruction, launched the statewide graduation initiative four years ago, borrowing the idea from Missoula public schools. Last week, Juneau announced the award of 35 grants to Montana schools and United Way agencies to increase the number of Montana students who graduate from high school prepared for college and careers. So far, Graduation Matters Montana has awarded $450,000 in grants, funded primarily by the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation with some support from State Farm Insurance, Steele Reese Foundation, AT&T and the Going to the Sun Rally Foundation. The grants range from $3,500 to $10,000 for each Graduation Matters team.

“Since its launch in 2010, local GMM teams have helped hundreds more students graduate, leading to millions of dollars in savings and added boosts to our state’s economy,” said Mike Halligan, executive director of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation.

What difference does the higher graduation rate make? The Alliance for Excellent Education estimates Montana will see a $4.3 million annual boost to the state’s economy going forward and an increase of $5.1 million in spending on homes and a $600,000 increase in automobile sales, Juneau said. Collectively, the additional graduates will likely earn an additional $68.2 million over the course of their lifetimes, compared to if they had not graduated from high school.

So far, 42 communities are involved in Graduation Matters and 74 percent of public high school students now attend a school with a Graduation Matters initiative. Kudos to the educators, business leaders and other community members who have stepped up to make graduation matter for all Montana students.

When a greater proportion of students complete high school education, the entire community benefits.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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