Students in New Jersey are expected to attend school and graduate to be ready for the workforce or continue their education.
However, many students fail, dropping out before graduating. And given the staggering number learning loss for New Jersey students affected by the pandemic, some say the government needs to work harder to provide more children with better opportunities to succeed in life.
“My school experience is that I’ve been dealing with a lot of mental health issues that have gone unaddressed for years and that I couldn’t get treatment for because of poor insurance,” said Blake, a senior at Newark High School and a student advocate with Youth New Jersey Opportunity Coalition. “I didn’t know my school even had guidance counselors. And once the pandemic started, things got worse before they got better.” We are not using Blake’s name because she is a minor.
Blake says some students in historically marginalized communities struggle to complete the requirements to earn a degree, and she argues that mental health issues, the stigma of students of color who come from low-income families, and systemic inequity all play a role. role.
She called on lawmakers to pass a law that would create a task force to study the issue and develop an action plan to solve it.
“I think being able to recognize a student before they drop out and try to get them the help they need before they decide they want to drop out would help a lot of students see that they really want to graduate and that they want something to make themselves, and not just give up because they feel like that’s the only option,” Blake said.
Dropout rates in New Jersey
According to the latest data for the country, New Jersey’s high school dropout rate is only 1% — relatively low compared to the national average of about 5%, according to the data Republican Center for Education Statistics.
However, there are about 100,000 students the state calls “the opportunity of youth”, those between the ages of 16 and 24 who do not attend school and do not have a job.
Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) introduced the legislation last fall and spoke about the issue at a recent Senate Appropriations Committee hearing when the committee unanimously approved the bill.
“It’s an investment policy,” Ruiz said at the hearing last Thursday. “The return on her dividend will be extraordinary.”
In addition to developing an action plan, the bill establishes a new leadership position within the Department of Education called the state ombudsman.
According to the text of the bill, the ombudsman will be obliged to:
- Collaborate with school districts to develop and implement a statewide strategic action plan;
- Work with various government agencies to address the challenges faced by students who have dropped out of school;
- Developing best practices as recommended by the School Task Force on Disengagement Prevention;
- And advise the Commissioner of Education on ways to prevent disengagement and strategies to rehabilitate disengaged students.
The General Assembly’s Education Committee also approved its version of the bill nearly a year ago, but it has not received a budget hearing in the lower chamber.