Maine held its first statewide dropout prevention summit last July, sponsored by the Maine Department of Education and the Maine Shared Youth Vision Council.

More than 250 educators, public officials, business leaders, social service providers, students and others gathered to brainstorm solutions at the University of Maine in Orono.

Participants in the Maine summit worked on plans to increase the statewide graduation rate from about 80 percent in 2006-2007 to 90 percent by 2015-2016, with a long-range goal of 100 percent.

The summit was funded by a $25,000 grant from America’s Promise Alliance, headed by former Secretary of State and retired Gen. Colin Powell and his wife, Alma. The alliance has identified dropout prevention as a national concern with far-reaching economic and social implications.

The national dropout rate has ranged from 29 percent to 34 percent in recent years. About 1.3 million students leave U.S. high schools each year, an average of 7,200 students every school day, according to the alliance.

Dropouts from the class of 2006-07 will cost the United States more than $329 billion in lost wages, taxes and productivity over their lifetimes. Students who leave school without a diploma are more likely to be incarcerated, rely on public programs and social services, and go without health insurance than those who graduate.

Portland, Maine’s largest district, has taken the challenge seriously, in part because its new superintendent, Jim Morse, dropped out of Portland High School for most of his junior year. Today, the city’s three high schools graduate about 78 percent of their students.

Morse hosted a two-day conference in December, when more than 100 community members gathered to develop a shared vision for the school district that would be the basis of future budget and policy decisions.

Portland’s school completion task force is planning an amnesty event in May, when all dropouts will be invited to return with help from the district’s alternative education staff.

The task force also plans to hold a teacher workshop on dropout prevention before school starts in September and a community summit on the topic in the fall.

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