Education Re-engagement Centers Spreading

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This week, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveiled a new network of 13 “YouthSource Centers.”  These centers constitute the latest addition to similar one-stop dropout recovery efforts now operating in cities as varied as Davenport, Iowa, and Boston, Massachusetts.  Based on evidence of significant numbers of youth and young adults who have not finished high school and who need referrals to good education options, these “reengagement centers” constitute a critically needed new piece of local youth development infrastructure.  And cities play key roles incubating or hosting the centers, along with school districts and others.

Los Angeles’ new approach shares important characteristics with dropout reengagement initiatives in other cities – most importantly, cross-system collaboration to assist its 100,000 or so 16-24 year olds who are out of school and out of work.  The City of Los Angeles Community Development Department (CDD), which manages workforce funds, led the planning for the centers along with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).  CDD contributes $13 million to pay for physical space and to provide for operation of the centers by community-based organizations, and raised an additional $12 million from the federal Workforce Innovation Fund to serve 1,200 more potential students and pay for a rigorous evaluation.  LAUSD places a Pupil Service and Attendance Counselor at each of the centers, which represents an in-kind contribution totaling $1 million.

Reengagement centers in Philadelphia and Boston, started by city-school district and Boston Private Industry Council-school district partnerships, respectively, helped create interest in the approach by hosting visits by many in the dropout recovery field.  Boston closely tracks and supports re-engaged students after they pass through assessment and referral steps at the center, and can now boast a “stick rate” of nearly 70% of students remaining in school for one year after re-engagement.

Centers now operate in Omaha, Nebraska; Dubuque, Iowa; Portland, Oregon; each of the five New York City boroughs; and three New Jersey cities based on locally-built creative partnerships.  Denver, Aurora, and Boulder, Colorado are leading experimentation with “virtual reengagement,” in which roving outreach staff go where dropouts congregate and provide referral services on line — without anyone having to go to a certain address.  Denver Mayor Michael Hancock supports this with a public endorsement of the “Drop In Denver” campaign.

Federal education policy reflects an upgraded interest in dropout recovery via requirements for recipients of High School Graduation Initiative grants from the U.S. Department of Education.  The result: new centers opening in Davenport, Iowa; Chicago, Illinois; and Pasadena, California.  HSGI grants also partially support the virtual activity in Colorado.

For municipal leaders, the development of reengagement centers and similar upgrades to dropout recovery efforts bear close attention, and support when the time is right.  Moving dropouts back into school holds great promise for achieving credentials at the high school level and beyond, building more fully contributing citizens for the long term.