The potential of losing millions of young people from schools could consign an important part of the next generation to the margins of the economy.
America will soon hear governors and state education leaders announce that millions of young people who are no longer participating in our educational system are designated on the rolls as “unaccounted for.”
The enormity of the problem will become evident, as schools report on their rates of enrollment and graduation for the Class of 2021. We can expect to hear of a truly dramatic increase in the number of high school dropouts.
COVID-19 and its consequences hit people of color, the “working poor” and those in low-wage service industries earlier, harder and now longer than most others. The consequent disproportionate educational and socioeconomic losses those populations have experienced also will be reflected in the devastating statistics.
Young people have become disengaged from their schools for many reasons, including the necessity of working to help with household expenses; watching younger siblings while parents work; and lack of Internet access, resulting in their falling far behind in their schoolwork.
For 40 years, Jobs for America’s Graduates has served the most vulnerable young people in America, helping them to stay in school, graduate and transition into the working economy. JAG operates in 1,450 locations across 40 states, where we have seen first-hand the effects of the pandemic on a national scale. We are deeply concerned.
The president and Congress have responded by allocating large-scale federal resources to schools to mitigate learning loss and to re-engage students.
The largest annual federal appropriation for schools comes from Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This appropriation usually totals $16 billion, to be shared among 14,000 school districts. In the past 12 months, the Title I appropriation has been increased to 13 times that amount – for a total of $196 billion in three pieces of COVID relief legislation. State Departments of Education and school districts are just now receiving much of that money.
In addition, Congress has approved $350 billion of funding to help states mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. Even in smaller states, this can mean $3 billion to $5 billion – often substantial percentages of states’ budget totals. Further, in most cases, state budget projections for the coming fiscal year are 5% to 15% higher than originally projected.
In short, states and school districts have received the largest-scale federal and state funding in history, and it can be used to mitigate learning loss and the massive disengagement of millions of young people from the nation’s educational system.
The potential of losing millions of young people from schools could consign an important part of the next generation to the margins of the economy, as they leave classrooms without a high school diploma and struggle to enter an economy requiring problem-solving abilities and technical knowledge and skills. They will be excluded from the economy, society and many other aspects of American life.
Again, the good news is that schools and states do have money. More good news is that we know what to do to help even the most at-risk and vulnerable young people succeed in school, employment and post-secondary education.
We have many proven education, motivation and engagement programs available in the nonprofit sector. And interventions offered by organizations such as Communities In Schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA and Jobs for America’s Graduates have been proven to work, at scale and over time.
If there were ever a time in American history when we ought to take what works and do more of it, this is it. Proven programs, platforms, and systems already are established and can be rapidly scaled as necessary to help the next generation secure an education, find employment and succeed in life.
We have no time to lose.
Ken Smith is founder and president of Jobs for America’s Graduates.