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NOT YET OUT OF REACH: Milwaukee Program Works to Reintroduce Dropouts to School

To anyone who doesn’t know better, Brian Morgan could easily pass for a detective or police officer. He hits the streets daily, looking for young people, armed with nothing more than a name and a possible location.

But he’s not looking for them because they have broken the law, but because he wants to help get them back in school and on a path to success. In a recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Joel Dresang profiles Morgan and REACH-Milwaukee, a program that works to reduce the number of high school dropouts and contribute to the economic development of the community.

Dresang notes that educating the young people of Milwaukee might very well be the greatest challenge to resurrecting Wisconsin’s economy. Of all the states, Wisconsin has the greatest achievement gap between blacks and whites in eighth-grade reading and math scores. Based on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Reading test, a full 58 percent of African-American students scored “below basic,” compared to 27 percent of white students.

According to Art Rolnick, senior vice president and director of research for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, educated children are less likely to cause trouble and commit crimes and are more likely to become productive wage earners and taxpayers. In Wisconsin, Rolnick’s assertions are supported by statistics. While only 13 percent of Wisconsin’s adults lack a high school education, they represent 46 percent of the state’s prison population and 46 percent of the state’s welfare program participants.

In Milwaukee alone, nearly 89,000 residents who are twenty-five and older have less than a high school education. Dresang writes that had these individuals finished high school, Milwaukee “would have almost 2,800 more workers and $560 million a year more in earnings, using national unemployment data and state earnings estimates based on education level.”

Today, most jobs demand strong cognitive abilities and problem-solving skills. As a result, jobs that were once available to high school dropouts are disappearing rapidly. The article cites a census report that says that in 1975, full-time year-round workers without a high school diploma made 90 percent of the earnings of a high school graduate. By 1999, “those without a high school education earned only 70 percent of those who did. Workers with a bachelor’s degree made 1.8 times the income of high school graduates in 1999, up from 1.5 in 1975.”

By enrolling in the REACH-Milwaukee program, a youth who is not currently in school can qualify for a fifteen-week free training program sponsored by the Automobile Dealers Association of Mega Milwaukee. Program participants who finish the training program often land jobs making $13 an hour. The REACH program also can help participants pass proficiency tests and receive their high school diploma.

“Educating Youth: An Economic Challenge” is available (free registration required) at http://www.jsonline.com/news/metro/jan04/200647.asp.

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