At-Risk Youth Group Urges Federal Support for Tested Interventions

Washington, D.C.

Officials with a national advocacy organization for at-risk teenage students urged Washington, D.C., policymakers on Tuesday to enact federally supported initiatives that would provide youths at risk for dropping out of high school educational and social support to help them earn diplomas, postsecondary education opportunities and job training.

Convening its second annual thought leader symposium, which was billed “Closing the Achievement Gap in Education and Employment Outcomes for At-Risk Minority Youth,” the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) organization brought Washington policymakers, including Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, and JAG national organization and affiliate officials together for a forum that touted scalable and tested interventions for at-risk high school students.

“We’re advocating solutions proven to be scalable and verified through research,” Maine Gov. John E. Balducci told an audience of 150 state, federal, corporate and JAG officials attending the thought leader symposium.

Balducci, the JAG board chairman, said it was the organization’s goal to recommend interventions JAG has either tested through its local affiliates or on which it has collected credible evidence to the next presidential administration, the Congress, the national business community, and the nation’s governors. “Let’s pick the successful strategies and get behind high-risk youth,” he urged.

“Each day, 7,000 young people drop out of school, and a disproportionate number of those are minority youth. This is one of the great issues facing America today, which is why we are committed to bringing attention to this overlooked crisis and continuing our work of over 28 years with at-risk students to address it,” said Ken Smith, JAG president.

Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans, told symposium attendees it’s critical that national leaders consider investing in young people, particularly those who are the most vulnerable and the most disadvantaged, as important as the investments the United States made in its national infrastructure, such as in the U.S. interstate highway system.

“Sustainability is the key … We invested for over 35 years in a highway system, and it has given us this incredible resource. Think about what could happen if the federal government had a 35-year commitment to strategies for at-risk youth,” Morial said.

Despite the intensive negotiations taking place this week on Capitol Hill for House and Senate members to craft a federal bailout of the distressed U.S. mortgage securities market, several members of Congress delivered remarks to the gathering, including Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., and Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif.

Spellings told the group that she believed the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind law represented an important achievement with regard to establishing greater accountability and measurement within the nation’s K-12 public school systems. She said it will be incumbent upon the next presidential administration to build upon No Child Left Behind’s legacy to enact federal interventions on behalf of at-risk teenage students to decrease national dropout rates

“I look forward to being part of the agitating group” among education advocates fighting for state and federal policies to help for at-risk students, Spellings promised.

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