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January 14, 2004

Blagojevich, Jones to create GRADS, addressing alarming number of high school dropouts
Governor to unveil anti-dropout initiative during 2004 State of the State address, Senate President Emil Jones supports Governor also announces support for Illinois Childhood Hunger Relief Act

CHICAGO – Concerned about the growing number of high school dropouts, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich and Senate President Emil Jones announced today a new statewide initiative that will better restructure existing state education programs to keep students in school in order for them to graduate.  “Getting Results Achieving Dreams and Success” or GRADS, will invest resources within targeted communities and develop innovative approaches to help students graduate with a high school diploma.
“In today’s high-tech economy, it’s difficult to land a good job without a college degree,” Governor Blagojevich said.  “But, if you don’t have a high school diploma, the odds of professional success are stacked against you.  GRADS will provide students with the tools they need to succeed.”
The 2000 U.S. Census found more than 200,000 people in Illinois between ages 16 and 24, dropped out of high school.  The report also found in Illinois, 1 out of every 2 Latino and 1 out of every 5 African American youth is a high school dropout.
“The dropout rate in Illinois, especially in the minority and low income communities, is at a crisis rate,” said Senate President Jones.  “Illinois cannot stand idly by while the number of dropouts continues to increase.”
GRADS, through the Department of Human Services, will coordinate the implementation of an anti-dropout program statewide and will provide resources to community-based groups, local schools and private providers for dropout prevention. 
Currently, there are more than a dozen different state programs scattered in various agencies that focus on curbing the number of high school dropouts.  For example, the Department of Human Services has a delinquency prevention program and a teen reach program, both aimed at dropout prevention.  The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity funds two different programs to increase students’ access to computers and to aid in the transition from high school to technology-related jobs, both programs also aimed at dropout prevention.  In addition to DHS and DCEO, the Department of Employment Security, the Department of Public Health and the Department of Children and Family Services all fund different anti-dropout programs.
GRADS will develop community and school specific intervention strategies because what may work in an urban school setting would not likely work in a rural school setting.  Strategies will focus on individual students and the three areas that have the greatest potential to influence their academic success:  the family, the school they attend, and the community in which they live.
“Coordination of state government programs and a partnership of schools, families and communities will chart a new course for the state to keep kids on the road to success,” Senate President Jones said.
The Department of Human Services already sets aside $2 million to fund dropout prevention.  It’s estimated GRADS will cost an additional $2 million.  The anticipated start date for GRADS is July 1, 2004.
Governor Blagojevich also today announced his support for Senate Bill 1400, the Childhood Hunger Relief Act.  The proposed legislation, introduced by Senator Miguel del Valle, requires schools with 40% of the student population eligible for free or reduced lunches to also offer breakfast.  Right now, Illinois ranks 48th on a national performance list, compiled by the Food Research and Action Center, monitoring school breakfast programs.  Last year, Illinois school cafeterias served more than 99 million free lunches, but they served less than 30 million free breakfasts.  The proposed legislation would apply to about 300 Illinois schools in more than 100 districts.
“Providing free breakfast for children who are eligible for free or reduced lunches is not only a moral obligation,” Governor Blagojevich said.  “It’s also something that will help students perform better in school.”
Numerous studies conclusively link proper nutrition with cognitive ability.  The Illinois Hunger Coalition reports students who are properly nourished at the start of the school day perform academically higher in class, are more alert, have fewer visits to school nurses, have lower rates of tardiness and have lower rates of behavioral disorders.  One specific study, conducted by the American School Food Service Association found among fourth grade students, those who had the least protein in their diets had the lowest achievement scores.
This type of legislation is largely supported by the United States Department of Agriculture, but if SB 1400 becomes effective, it’s anticipated to cost the state about $1 million for fiscal year 2005.
The Governor will explain the Childhood Hunger Relief Act, GRADS and other innovative education initiatives during his State of the State address, at the State Capitol, on Thursday, January 15, at 12 Noon.


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