How State Policies Can Support Local Reengagement Efforts

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Nationwide, members of the Reengagement Network are taking notice of the potential for state policy to support local efforts to increase the high school graduation rate in their communities.

Empty classroom(Getty/XiXinXing)

The impact of state policies on local efforts to reengage students who have left school varies widely. Policies can drive resources to the local level, or aid in the development of peer-learning networks. States also have the ability to push innovation on a large scale, via services ranging from leadership development to potential curriculum platforms.

Providing broad student supports and adding to the range of local return-to-school alternatives are some of the biggest challenges to expanding reengagement efforts. Working with out-of-school youth requires funding for recruitment to ensure young people stay in school after they reenroll. Existing funding and accountability structures may make it difficult for schools to reenroll older youth.

In the face of these challenges, several states, including Texas, Washington, Illinois and Iowa have successfully enacted legislation that provides support for local reengagement activity, including funding.

In Texas, HB 1137 authorizes funding for school districts to help youth up to the age of 26 earn a high school diploma. Enacted in 2007, the law encourages local districts to recover students that have dropped out, and prevent those who may be at risk from being pushed out.

As a case in point, the College, Career & Technology Academy (CCTA) serves youth in the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo School District in Texas, and receives funding from HB 1137. CCTA, through its partnership with South Texas College, provides youth with college coursework that meets their needs. In addition to on-campus classes, students earn credits through hybrid courses. During the first four years of operation, 1,000 students graduated from CCTA.

Washington State’s Open Doors legislation (HB1418) became law in 2010, with the aim to expand outreach, education and case management services for disconnected youth. Through Open Doors, the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction currently provides small-scale grant funds to nearly 40 separate programs around the state. Most commonly, school districts operate Open Doors programs. Numerous programs are jointly sponsored by school districts and local community colleges.

Open Doors supports a diverse variety of models and partnerships — testament to the state’s interest in accommodating all types of learners. The legislation supports programs that:

  • Encourage partnerships with community colleges and community–based organizations,
  • Create multiple pathways for students to realize success,
  • Create a pathway to post-secondary achievement through a performance based, individualized support model, and
  • Emphasize college and career readiness.

GRAVITY (GED + Reengagement Alternative Vocational Individualized Training for Youth) was the first reengagement program approved by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington. At GRAVITY, students prepare for the GED and develop skills to enter the workforce. Twenty-three different school districts in the state of Washington have implemented GRAVITY, and in the 2013-2014 school year, 687 students enrolled in a GRAVITY program.

Chicago Student Outreach And Reengagement Center
Chicago Student Outreach And Reengagement Center (SOAR)

In Illinois, the Truants Alternative and Optional Education Program (TAOEP) provides grants to programs that serve out-of-school youth up to age 21. Similar to programs in Texas and Washington, TAOEP programs in Illinois work with community organizations to supplement state funding to meet young people’s needs. In Chicago, four utilize TAOEP funds to reengage over 2,100 youth annually.

In Iowa, the Department of Education enacted Modified Allowable Growth for Dropout Prevention, (MAG-DoP), a funding mechanism for school districts which covers 25-75 percent of the approved budget for programs that reengage youth, or provide services to students at risk of dropping out. Typically, districts and other partners such as local community colleges or foundations supply the balance of funds for such efforts. In the 2015-2016 academic year, 336 districts received state funds for their dropout reengagement and prevention programs through MAG-DoP. Dubuque Community School District receives a portion of the funding for   from MAG-DoP.

Together, cities and states can overcome some of the challenges that face reengagement programs as they expand and work to achieve stability. As more states play an active role in local reengagement efforts, assistance should expand beyond funding.

States can set goals to reduce the dropout rate and incentivize local organizations to create coalitions to reengage youth. Partnerships can lead to the creation of stronger strategies and increase the resources available to create more sustainable programs.

Zachia Nazarzai
About the Author:
Zachia Nazarzai is the Reengagement Fellow with NLC’d Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. She is a graduate student at the Heinz School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University. Contact Zachia at nazarzai@nlc.org.