Graduation Matters message: state needs fewer dropouts, higher school graduation rate

December 8, 2008

COLUMBIA, SC – December 5, 2008 – South Carolina needs fewer school dropouts and a higher “on time” high school graduation rate in order to be competitive with other states and give its young people the ability to pursue higher-paying jobs in the 21st century economy.

That was the message heard by hundreds of educators and school supporters from across the state who gathered in Columbia for a “Graduation Matters” summit to discuss ways to keep students in school.

The meeting marked the beginning of South Carolina’s participation in a nationwide effort to find solutions for the country’s dropout problem and prepare students for college. Similar summits will be held throughout the country by 2010, jointly sponsored by America’s Promise Alliance, AT&T and State Farm.

“The United States is the only industrialized country in the world whose children are now less likely to graduate from high school than their parents,” State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex told the audience.  “Clearly, our state and nation cannot continue to allow this dropout crisis to squander our precious human and financial resources.” 

Richard Wells of America’s Promise said the nation needs a “wake-up call to keep our young people in school and help prepare them for college, work and life.”  The series of summits emphasizes that student dropouts affect not only schools, but also businesses, government, communities and families. 

“We all pay the price because high school dropouts are more likely to be imprisoned, more likely to be on welfare and more likely to go without health insurance than students who graduate,” Wells said. 

AT&T state president Pamela Lackey and State Farm Insurance Southern Zone vice president Reggie Gallant are supporting South Carolina’s dropout prevention initiative and the America’s Promise campaign. Lackey presented a $25,000 check to Graduation Matters, while Gallant presented a check for $20,000. 

“State Farm knows that graduation is a critical first step to future success for our students and future prosperity for our nation,”
Gallant said.  “We urge other businesses to join with us in working to ensure that all children are ready to succeed in their education, in the workforce and in life.”

Lackey noted that AT&T’s Aspire initiative begun earlier this year will invest $100 million nationwide for dropout prevention and workforce development.  She said over $1 million will be donated in South Carolina through various grants to be announced by the end of the year.

Throughout the day-long series of guest speakers and breakout sessions, the summit focused on these key points:
 – Engaging key players in dropout prevention, including elected officials, educators, administrators and leaders from business and philanthropy.
 – Raising awareness of the dropout problem in South Carolina.
 – Raising awareness of local, state and federal policies and how to influence policy development.
 – Identifying post-summit plans and actions that will achieve measurable results.

Regional teams have been formed to work on follow-up plans and dropout prevention activities for 2009.  A progress report is due by next