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UPDATED: Richardson Announces Education Plan

By Heather Clark
Associated Press
      Gov. Bill Richardson launched a statewide effort Wednesday aimed at getting 10,000 dropouts to return to high school by the end of his term in January 2011.
    The Democratic governor said the challenge for dropouts is the first of as many as eight proposals — called "Graduate New Mexico: It's Everybody's Business" — to decrease the state's dropout rate and close the achievement gap.
    Among other issues, he said, the state will focus on the disparity in test scores among racial groups: White and Asian students typically fare better than their Hispanic, black and Native American counterparts.
    "I want 10,000 back in school by the end of my term — 10,000," Richardson told students and community leaders at Rio Grande High School in Albuquerque.
    Public Education Secretary Veronica Garcia said about 40,000 students have failed to graduate from New Mexico's high schools over the last four years.
    Data released this week showed New Mexico's high school graduation rate was 54 percent. The national average was 70 percent.
    Richardson said he will authorize $9 million in federal stimulus funds to improve the state's educational system.
    To tackle the dropout problem, Richardson said the state Public Education Department will partner with local community groups to identify dropouts and return them to high school.
    The state will expand an existing online network of courses so that students who lack two to three credits can register at their local high school, but take the courses they need to graduate online.
    Students without computers at home could go to a library, church or community center to complete their degree, Garcia said.
    Garcia and Richardson stressed that business and community leaders, educators, parents and students all would be involved in boosting the state's academic achievement.
    "The approach has to be how do we create a cultural shift in our state to communicate to kids that they're not going to have a high quality of life if they drop out of school," Garcia said.
    Garcia said it's OK for community leaders to ask kids why they aren't in school and she said parents can no longer tell their children it's acceptable that they dropped out of high school.
    To tackle a persistent achievement gap in New Mexico, Richardson has appointed a task force led by Garcia to focus on schools that have consistently failed to improve over the last five years and make recommendations for intervention.
    The state also will hold three summits — focusing on Hispanic, Native American and black students — ahead of the legislative session that starts in January that will engage the community and parents in coming up with solutions.
    Richardson also said an annual report card that will grade the state's performance on educational issues like the dropout and graduation rates, college attendance and test scores broken down by ethnicity would be created. The first will be released by Dec. 31, he said.
    "Today is a start for an educational renaissance in New Mexico," Richardson said.
    State Republican Party Chairman Harvey Yates charged Tuesday that the data released this week shows the governor has failed to aggressively improve education during his six years in office.
    Richardson said after the announcement that he has made gains in education in New Mexico, but the biggest problem that need focus are the dropout rate and the achievement gap.
    "This is a national problem, it's not just us," he said.
    Richardson said education funding has increased close to 30 percent since he has been governor, including a wage increase for educators that ranks New Mexico 36th in the nation for teachers' salaries, up from a low of 48th place.
    Richardson declined to name a figure for his goal for next year's statewide graduation rate.
    "I want to be judged by the 10,000 students that didn't graduate," he said.

Copyright ©2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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