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EDITORIAL: It takes money to raise graduation rates

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IBJ Editorial

Halftime of any game is a good time to take stock of first-half performance and tweak strategy, if necessary, to assure a win. That’s essentially what the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce is doing as it approaches the midway point of its Common Goal Initiative, an effort launched in 2008 to raise high school graduation rates in Marion County.

Common Goal has to like the score so far. After the 2008-2009 school year—the first of the four-year program, the overall graduation rate among public schools in Marion County had jumped from 69 percent to almost 74 percent.

That puts the program ahead of schedule on the way toward its goal of boosting graduation rates to 80 percent by the end of the 2011-2012 school year. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and not just for the high school students and the many organizations that are making Common Goal a success.

High school graduation rates matter—or should—to everyone in the county. Graduates earn more (about $1 million more over a lifetime, according to chamber estimates) and invest more than their counterparts who don’t get a diploma. All that additional earning and investing means more home and car sales, more job creation and more tax money that government can use to pay for basic services.

The kids who never graduate, meanwhile, cost us plenty. They represent about 80 percent of our prison population. Those who stay out of trouble are four times less likely than graduates to volunteer and only half as likely to vote.

Recognizing the enormous financial and social costs of a growing population of dropouts, the chamber began planning for Common Goal in 2006. Working in all 11 public school districts in Marion County since 2008, the program has, among other things, placed graduation coaches and mentors in schools, created a summer internship program, and helped students make up credits by giving them access to licensed technology designed for remediation.

Common Goal served more than 2,200 at-risk students in its first school year and plans to help more than 3,000 students in the final year of the program. It’s working now on an early warning system to identify as soon as possible students who are at risk of dropping out.

All this takes money—about $4.8 million, plus in-kind contributions, over the four-year life of the program. Common Goal has raised more than $2 million from a host of financial supporters. Among the biggest are the Pacers Foundation, Lilly Endowment, JP Morgan Chase, Community Action of Greater Indianapolis and AT&T.

Whether Common Goal and its partners can continue their dropout prevention strategies through school-year 2012 depends on the generosity of the Marion County business and philanthropic community.

In these days of partisanship and acrimony over public policy, we need to remember what we have in common. Like the goal of keeping our workplaces full of productive employees and our prisons from bursting at the seams. Go to commongoalindy.org to find out how you can help.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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