WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama outlined Monday a get-tough strategy for turning around persistently struggling schools, offering an unprecedented increase in federal funding for local school systems that shake up their lowest-achieving campuses.
Speaking before America's Promise Alliance, an education group founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife, Alma, Obama called curbing the dropout problem a pressing economic and social imperative. "This is a problem we cannot afford to accept and we cannot afford to ignore," he said at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters. "The stakes are too high — for our children, for our economy and for our country."
According to a White House fact sheet, "Every school day, about 7,000 students decide to drop out of school — a total of 1.2 million students each year — and only about 70 percent of entering high school freshman graduate every year." As a result of this "dropout crisis," it said, the nation loses $319 billion a year in potential earnings. The problem is concentrated in the nation's poorest schools and among minority students. Just 2,000 of America's schools — about 12 percent of the nation's total — account for half of the nation's dropouts, and more than 50 percent of them are African-American or Hispanic.
The president's budget for the fiscal year that begins in October proposes $900 million for school turnaround grants, up from $546 million in fiscal 2010. The economic stimulus law enacted last year provided an additional $3 billion. The 2011 budget, released last month, awaits action in Congress.