WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama today announced steps that his administration will take to combat the high school dropout crisis and invest in strategies to ensure students graduate prepared for college and careers.

Obama’s announcement follows recent efforts by the Maine Department of Education and local school districts, including Portland, to tackle the issue.

“This is a problem we can’t afford to accept or ignore,” Obama said.  “The stakes are too high – for our children, for our economy, for our country. It’s time for all of us to come together – parents and students, principals and teachers, business leaders and elected officials – to end America’s dropout crisis.”

Only about 70 percent of high school freshmen in the United States end up graduating from a traditional high school program, according to a White House news release. Each year, the country loses $319 billion in potential earnings because of the dropout crisis.

Obama challenged states to identify high schools with graduation rates below 60 percent and discussed the administration’s investments to help them turn those schools around.

The Obama administration has committed $3.5 billion to fund transformational changes in America’s persistently low-performing schools. The president’s 2010-11 budget includes $900 million to support School Turnaround Grants.

To access school improvement funds, states and school districts with the lowest-performing high schools will choose among four reform models that call for replacing principals and teachers or closing schools altogether.

Obama emphasized the importance of investing in dropout prevention and recovery strategies to help make learning more engaging and relevant for students.

He also announced new efforts to invest $100 million in College Pathways, an effort to promote a college readiness culture in high schools through programs that allow students to earn a high school diploma and college credit at the same time.

Obama spoke at an America’s Promise Alliance GradNation event hosted by former secretary of state and retired Gen. Colin Powell and his wife, Alma, who are the founding and current chairmen of the alliance, respectively.