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Preventing the High Cost of Dropouts in Illinois

December 13, 2011

CHICAGO - Chicago, its suburb Oak Park, and more than 150 cities around the country are making early literacy an urgent priority for 2012. The push comes as statistics show that two-thirds of U.S. pupils are not proficient readers as they finish the early grades. Research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that, once children miss that benchmark, they're far more likely to drop out of school later.

Robin Steans, executive director of the education advocacy group Advance Illinois, says early education lost 10 percent of its state funding two years ago, and that money needs to come back.

"Clearly, you know, that ought to be a top priority for the state as we go forward and there are revenues - if they exceed projections and as things start to recover - I would hope that that would be a very high priority."

The communities have joined the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading network and are competing for All-America City Awards that recognize quality literacy projects.

Ralph Smith, who is leading the Campaign nationally for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, sees plenty of creative opportunities that have yet to be tapped.

"Recreation centers, churches and congregations, libraries and athletic programs: communities can create literacy-rich programs."

Another study by the Alternative Schools Network finds that high school dropouts in Illinois cost the state around $70,000 during their lifetimes, because many wind up incarcerated and don't pay as many taxes as those who finish school.

Steans says helping children succeed by third grade prevents these types of problems.

"It pays enormous dividends if you can get kids off to a really good, strong, early start."

A Casey Foundation report shows that poor children who don't read proficiently are 13 times more likely to drop out of high school, compared to good readers who have never lived in poverty.

Details on the All-America City Awards are at ht.ly/7GpXQ.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation report, "Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation," is at ht.ly/7GpVa.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL