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United Way Blog

Building a Grad Nation Summit: Highlights and Next Steps for Youth Advocates

"Together we can - and we will - prepare children and youth for college, work and life." - General Colin Powell

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the second annual “Building a Grad Nation Summit,” the premier event for America’s Promise Alliance’s 10-year campaign to end the high school dropout crisis, in Washington, D.C. The conference halls and break-out rooms were bursting with both intense anxiety about the state of our nation’s education system and excitement about galvanizing a movement dedicated to addressing the dropout crisis.

For those in the education advocacy community, it was a family reunion of sorts. It provided the opportunity to meet, engage and reconnect with those that are steeped in the task of preparing our young people for college and the 21st century workforce. We shared successful models and approaches, coordinated policy strategies, created valuable connections, and re-fueled for the next leg of the race. 

Top Five Summit Highlights

Want to know what you missed? Here are a few summit highlights:

  1. The Summit kicked off with remarks from United Way Worldwide President & CEO Brian Gallagher, who spoke about United Way’s commitment to cut the nation’s dropout rate in half by 2018;
  2. Included a panel moderated by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, which highlighted several successful school turnaround models and featured a young person’s inspirational story of educational success;
  3. Brought more than 1,000 education stakeholders from 42 states and more than 150 youth leaders to discuss challenges and solutions to ending America’s high school dropout crisis;
  4. Featured the release of the latest Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic report, which revealed that 24 states increased their high school graduation rates by modest to large gains; and
  5. Provided an opportunity for about 200 attendees to meet with their Congressional representatives to discuss dropout prevention.

A Call to Action

Among the breakout sessions was a noteworthy discussion of “Hot Topics in Education Policy and Reform.” Speakers and panelists painted a picture of the status of education reform in Congress and how we can make certain all students graduate from high school college and career-ready.

First Focus CEO Bruce Lesley opened with an analysis of discretionary education funding trends and the policy implications for our young people. According to Lesley, funding for children’s programs has declined dramatically over the last few years. Even though children are one-quarter of our population, only 7.5 percent of the budget is dedicated to programs that address the needs of children and youth. He also provided analysis of the recession’s impact on children, noting that child poverty has increased from 17 percent in 2007 to 22 percent in 2010.

Given these dire statistics, Lesley provided an explanation of what’s needed to create policy change. In order to graduate all students, we must:

  1. Share knowledge about what works;
  2. Build public will around the issue of high school graduation;
  3. Develop policies that address the barriers and obstacles; and
  4. Take action and create windows of opportunity. 

While getting involved in policy change may seem overwhelming and convoluted, Bruce Lesley provided a call to action for all of us on the national, state and local level to be involved in one of these four entry points that support and boost high school graduation. Together we can ensure a better life for our students – and a better future for our nation. 

For more information on the Grad Nation Campaign, visit: http://www.americaspromise.org/our-work/grad-nation/building-a-grad-nation.aspx. Archived webcasts from the Summit are available at the America’s Promise website.

Interested in joining United Ways work to reduce the high school dropout rate? Send a message to your congressional member in support of policies and programs that boost High School Graduation here.