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Focusing on the initiative – dubbed Operation Restart - to reconnect PA high school dropouts to their high school credentials and a skilled workforce.

PPC applauds Susan Corbett's dropout prevention campaign

Today, Pennsylvania First Lady Susan Corbett announced a new dropout prevention initiative called "Opening Doors," an effort to identify students at risk of dropping out and provide the supports and interventions necessary to keep them on the path to graduation.

Given Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children's (PPC) longstanding efforts in addressing dropouts, we were understandably pleased to see this new initiative. In fact, the first lady graciously reached out to PPC as early as last fall to seek our input on dropout prevention and re-engagement, and we were glad to oblige. We look forward to further collaboration with the first lady on this important issue.

A key focus of "Opening Doors" will be establishing early warning systems in our schools to identify students most at risk of dropping out. In many cases, the warning signs of a potential dropout emerge as early as middle school – and PPC has worked to ensure supports for those students so they get the help they need to continue their education through high school and beyond.

PPC has worked over the years to build a constructive dialogue among educators, business leaders and others to better engage and challenge students so they stay in school. Our work has helped ensure graduates are prepared for the challenges beyond high school, and it has helped students engage in work-based learning opportunities as early as middle school – opportunities that help them understand the value of a quality education and show students the relevance between what they are learning in the classroom and their future career goals.

PPC realizes, as the first lady does, that high school dropouts signify a loss of human potential that not only affects the young people who drop out, but also negatively impacts our economy and our communities.

While the reasons for dropping out might vary, the impact is the same. The dropout problem is a less visible form of "brain drain" that is hindering our workforce development and our economic strength. It also is adding to the societal costs of social service programs and, in the worst cases, our justice system and prisons.

Statewide policy discussions on education reforms or workforce development too often have given scant attention to the dropout issue, but having Susan Corbett champion this cause certainly can raise its profile. We welcome her to this important cause, and stand ready to provide our support to ongoing efforts to keep students in school.

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Business in PA Needs Dropouts to Come Back

Central to the missions of both the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board, Inc. and the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation is the goal to improve the business climate by creating growth opportunities for our region. And key to creating growth opportunities for current business and industry – or attracting new business, for that matter – is the quality of the existing workforce. Is the available labor force adequately educated, trained and capable of tackling whatever challenges exist in a high-tech world? Or will an employer be forced to look outside the region to fill skilled jobs?

More than 70 percent of Pennsylvania jobs today require workers with education beyond high school, yet only about half of our current workers have this education level. Jobs requiring only high school credentials are disappearing and those that do remain do not pay wages sufficient enough to raise and support a family. To address this issue, we must ensure our labor force has the education to compete; this means not only graduating from high school, but acquiring some type of postsecondary education as well, whether that be a two or four-year-college, technical school or work-placed training program.

In order for Pennsylvania to compete successfully in today's knowledge-based economy, we must engage every available worker, including those young people who have dropped out of high school. We need to ensure a continuous pipeline of qualified workers – in the Lehigh Valley and across PA. Re-engaging high school dropouts will increase the number of workers available to fill high-skill, high-demand occupations.

If the nearly 120,000 16-to-24-year-old current dropouts in Pennsylvania were to re-engage and earn their high school credential and attend some college, instead of costing more than $80 million each ear in publicly-funded programs, they would contribute more than $1.1 billion a year in tax revenues.

We urge our leaders to do more to help young people who have dropped out of high school. Reconnecting high school dropouts to their education and the skilled workforce will turn dropouts into productive, taxpaying citizens and enhance our region's - and the state's - economy.

Eugene D. Ervin is the Chairman of the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board, Inc. Phil Mitman is the President and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation.

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While I was in jail, I did a lot of thinking and I decided this isn’t what I want for my life...

I was in tenth grade when I dropped out of high school. At the time I didn't think a diploma was very important, I never thought I'd need a high school education and to be brutally honest, I didn't really care.

I left school to help care for my dad who is disabled. On top of that I had a serious drug problem and it consumed me. I just didn't care about school anymore. But of course, at the time, if I had known all the problems that awaited me because I never finished high school, I might never have dropped out. But some kids have to learn the hard way.

Soon my drug use escalated and I turned to crime in order to support my habit. I ended up getting arrested and spent six months in jail. I certainly wasn't able to take care of my dad from behind bars. Those were not proud days for me.

But while I was in jail, I did a lot of thinking and I decided this isn't what I want for my life, this isn't what I want for my kids. So after meeting with my probation officer once I was released, he introduced me to YouthBuild, a program that helps high school dropouts work toward their GEDs or high school diplomas while simultaneously learning valuable job skills while we build affordable housing for our communities.

I jumped at the chance to reconnect to my high school education. Two days a week I'm in class studying and two days a week I'm on the job site learning the construction trade while I work on a house purchased by HUD that we are re-modeling for a family that can't afford their own house. I am also working on a new Habitat for Humanity house. It feels good to be doing something good for myself as well as for my community.

Every year, 30,000 Pennsylvania teenagers fail to graduate with their class. Pennsylvania needs programs like YouthBuild to help high school dropouts reconnect to their education and learn job skills that will help them prepare for the future. YouthBuild is a partner in a new statewide campaign called Operation Restart, to urge our legislative leaders to provide funding for these kinds of programs.

This YouthBuild program saved my life. I've been clean for a year and a half now and soon I will graduate and start looking at colleges. The people at YouthBuild are going to help me with college applications and walk me through the financial aid process. I can say without a doubt that young people need a high school degree. It's a stepping stone to the rest of your life.

It feels good that I am going in the right direction. I know without the ability to reconnect to my high school education I'd be back in jail.

But today my family is proud of me. I am proud of me.

Jesse Shaffer is 23 and lives in Danville.

Learn more about Operation Restart at www.operationrestart.org.

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A recent report gives stark details about the employment outcomes of former foster youth...

A recent report from Chapin Hall, the policy research arm at the University of Chicago, gives stark details about the employment outcomes of former foster youth in Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa.

"Foster youth who age out of care are less likely to be employed and earn lower wages than other youth, even when compared to demographically similar low-income youth. Unemployment and underemployment are common," the report states. http://www.chapinhall.org/sites/default/files/Midwest_Study_ES_Age_23_24.pdf

Imagine the employment scenario for youth in foster care who never even graduate from high school. What kind of jobs will they be finding?

When we released our Operation Restart report in January documenting that 30,000 Pennsylvania teenagers fail to graduate with their class each year, we mentioned "special populations" as being especially susceptible to falling prey to dropping out. Those special populations include pregnant and parenting teens, English-as-a-second-language (ESL) learners, and youth in foster care.

Foster kids can experience multiple out-of-home placements while they are in the foster care system and because of that jumping around, they are likely to have changed schools, too. When you talk to foster youth who were in care for many years, it is not uncommon to hear them say they changed high school three or four times. Many teens in foster care fall behind in their schoolwork because of the constant disruption in their academics and never catch up.

If they never catch up they are likely to give up and drop out.

Operation Restart (www.operationrestart.org) aims to reconnect high school dropouts to their education and a skilled workforce to turn this population into productive, engaged, tax-paying citizens.

So join us in supporting Operation Restart and in doing so, help a former foster care youth reconnect to the rest of his life.

William J. Bartle, Youth Policy Director, PA Partnerships for Children

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Long gone are the days where a good work ethic and a strong back were enough.

Did you know that 70 percent of Pennsylvania's jobs require workers who have a high school diploma plus some postsecondary education? Long gone are the days where a good work ethic and a strong back were enough to ensure young people earned a wage that would comfortably support them and their families.

A perfect example is my hometown of Johnstown. When I was growing up, there were many opportunities for young people with just a high school diploma, or even for those who dropped out, to enter the steel mills and to work there for their entire lives earning a good wage. But the steel mills are gone now and so are those opportunities. To be successful in today's information-based economy, young people must graduate from high school college- and career-ready, and transition into postsecondary education -- be it community college, 4-year college, technical school, industry training, apprenticeship program, or the like.

But what happens to all the young people who drop out of high school? Every year, more than 30,000 teenagers (that's 166 every school day) don't make it to graduation with their class. These high school dropouts earn less money than their diploma-holding peers, are more likely to be unemployed, more likely to live in poverty, and more likely to get in trouble with the law. In addition, these young people are a drain on our economy. In fact, every year they consume $80 million more in publicly-funded programs than they contribute in taxes.

We recently launched a statewide advocacy campaign called Operation Restart to address the needs of high school dropouts. The goal of Operation Restart is to develop and advance a public policy agenda to ensure all young people (to age 25) who lack a high school credential have access to high-quality educational options that lead to a high school and postsecondary and/or industry credential that prepares them for a self/family-sustaining wage occupation.

Please join us in this important work. For additional information on Operation Restart, check out the website at – www.operationrestart.org.

William J. Bartle, Youth Policy Director, Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children

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