Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz
Massachusetts Second Suffolk District
Dropout Prevention, Recovery Bill Receives Favorable Report from Education Committee
Raises mandatory attendance age to 18; creates Graduation Coach program

BOSTONThe Joint Committee on Education reported out today a bill aimed at lowering Massachusetts’ dropout rate through a variety of prevention and recovery measures, including raising the state’s mandatory attendance age from 16 to 18, placing graduation coaches in schools with high dropout rates, and ensuring alternative education options for students expelled from school.

“We know that the best way to keep students on a path to graduation is to create a comprehensive plan that addresses the root causes of why they drop out,” said Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Boston), Senate Chair of the Education Committee and the lead sponsor of the bill. “That’s exactly the approach that this bill takes. It is based on proven ideas from around the nation, and calls on all the actors surrounding our students to own a piece of the solution.”

“This bill includes a number of important tools to support dropout prevention efforts in schools throughout Massachusetts and represents a positive step forward as we continue our efforts to combat the school dropout dilemma,” said Representative Alice H. Peisch (D-Wellesley), co-chair of the Joint Committee on Education.

“Massachusetts has an urgent need to develop a more comprehensive approach to responding to the dropout crisis. S.185 is a step in that direction,” said Dr. Lisa Famularo, Vice President of Research and Evaluation at the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy. “Our research, including analysis of Massachusetts’ laws governing school attendance and disciplinary removal, revealed policies that contribute to the Commonwealth’s dropout problem. I am pleased to see that S. 185 revises many of these policies and puts into place new structures and practices for engaging youth at risk of leaving school prior to graduating.” 

Each year, about 8,000 Massachusetts high school students drop out of school, with far-reaching consequences for the entire state. The average high school dropout in Massachusetts will impose a net fiscal burden of nearly $118,124 on state and federal taxpayers, whereas the average high school graduate will contribute $319,043 over the course of his or her lifetime—a gap of $437,167. Dropouts also make up 70 percent of the state’s jail and prison populations, at an average annual cost of about $46,000 per person. Conversely, Massachusetts employers currently have 120,000positions that remain unfilled due to a lack of skilled workers.

S. 185, An Act relative to dropout prevention and recovery,calls on parents, teachers, administrators, school districts, and the state to play a role in keeping students on track to graduate. The bill’s measures help identify sooner those students who may be at risk of dropping out, engage at-risk students and their families, and provide alternative options for students who leave traditional school. The bill’s provisions include:

  • Raising the mandatory school attendance age, in phases, from 16 to 18;
  • Expanding into earlier grades the state’s system for identifying students at risk of dropping out, providing schools critical data to target appropriate resources to kids in need;
  • Creating the Massachusetts Graduation Coach Initiative—based on a successful program in Georgia—in qualifying high schools and middle schools. Responsibilities of the graduation coach include convening the student, a family member, and school personnel to develop an individualized family engagement plan outlining each of the parties’ responsibilities for supporting the student’s academic progress;
  • Pushing schools to reduce dependency on suspension and expulsion—a high risk factor in whether a student eventually drops out—as a disciplinary tactic. The bill requires principals to use discretion and avoid using expulsion until other remedies have been employed.  For suspensions of a student in kindergarten through grade 3, the principal must notify the superintendent and state of the reasons for the suspension. Districts must also report data about all suspensions and expulsions to DESE; and
  • Requiring superintendents and school personnel to conduct an exit interview with a student and his or her parents prior to the student dropping out of school to consider alternative educational options. School districts must also provide alternative educational services to students who are expelled or suspended for more than 10 days.

At a press conference following the committee vote, supporters spoke out in favor of the bill, including Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong, students, parents, and advocates.

Araba Adoboe, a 17 year-old from Amherst who dropped out of school, said she wished had had access to the resources of the bill when she was in school. “If S. 185 had been in place then, things would have been different. If I had a graduation coach, maybe I could have received tutoring. Maybe if someone had helped us negotiate or coordinate resources I could have stayed in school.”

S. 185 is supported by a broad coalition of advocacy groups, including United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, the Youth Transitions Task Force, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, Oíste, the Boston Parents Organizing Network, Stand for Children, Massachusetts Educational Opportunity Association, Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, Massachusetts Mentoring Partnership, the Multicultural Dropout Outreach Collaborative, and the TRUST Project.

The bill now moves on to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.