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GRADUATION PROMISE ACT: New Legislation Would Provide $2.5 Billion for Low-Performing High Schools

"We cannot afford to let underperforming high schools continue to push students off the path to prosperity."

Low-performing high schools would be eligible for $2.5 billion in federal funds under new legislation introduced on September 23 by U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). The bill, the Graduation Promise Act (GPA), or S. 1698, would provide money to districts and states to help them implement effective, research-based reforms tailored to the specific needs of high schools. Joining Bingaman as original cosponsors of the legislation are Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH)Bob Casey (D-PA)Christopher Dodd (D-CT)Al Franken (D-MN)Jeff Merkley (D-OR),Patty Murray (D-WA)Jack Reed (D-RI), and Harry Reid (D-NV).

“We cannot afford to let underperforming high schools continue to push students off the path to prosperity,” said Bingaman. “We must ensure our nation’s economic competitiveness by promising each high school student a chance to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to pursue his or her dreams and succeed in college or the workplace. The Graduation Promise Act will help to make that possible.”

According to research from Johns Hopkins University, about two thousand high schools in the United States, or about 12 percent, account for over half of all high school dropouts and nearly two thirds of all minority dropouts. In these “dropout factories,” as they have been dubbed, graduation rates routinely fall below 60 percent. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, however, only a little more than half of these schools are eligible for Title I funds-the percentage of schools that actually receive funds is believed to be even lower.

By targeting this relatively small number of low-performing high schools, GPA, if enacted, would fundamentally improve educational outcomes for students in these schools while providing an immediate boost to the nation’s high school graduation rate, which has remained largely unchanged for decades. At the same time, GPA would also create an appropriate federal role in reforming the nation’s secondary schools, which are largely ignored under NCLB.

Specifically, GPA would authorize $2.44 billion to create a High School Improvement and Dropout Reduction Fund focused on transforming the nation’s lowest-performing high schools. Such a fund would help states and local school districts identify high schools with low graduation and student achievement rates and provide them with the resources necessary to implement research-based interventions. Funding would be awarded through competitive grants to schools that partner with local communities, businesses, and other entities to create proven dropout prevention strategies such as mentoring and apprenticeship programs and early college high schools.

The second component of the legislation is a $60 million competitive grant program that would promote the development and implementation of successful school models that are geared toward students who struggle in conventional education settings.

“Focusing on the nation’s lowest-performing high schools will produce immediate gains by turning thousands of dropouts into graduates,” said Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise. “By introducing the Graduation Promise Act, these Senators have shown the will to address this problem; their legislation shows the way.”

Read Senator Bingaman’s complete statement at

More information on the Graduation Promise Act, including a one-page summary, is available at

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.