- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2010

President Obama on Monday said the United States must get a handle on its high-school dropout crisis if it is to succeed in the next century, arguing that giving up on school means “giving up on your family’s future and giving up on your country’s future.”

“We know the success of every American will be tied more than ever before to the level of education they receive,” Mr. Obama said before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at an event hosted by America’s Promise Alliance, an advocacy group headed by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife, Alma.

The speech marked a return to one of Mr. Obama’s key priorities — education — which has taken a back seat as the White House has been focused on the economy and a health-care overhaul.

Saying that more than 1 million students fail to graduate each year, Mr. Obama called on states to identify and focus on schools with graduation rates below 60 percent. Those districts could be eligible for federal aid as his budget proposal includes $900 million in “school turnaround grants” on top of $3.5 billion in federal dollars Mr. Obama has committed to low-performing schools.

To receive the turnaround funds, schools must replace their principals and at least half their staff, close and reopen under new management, or close for good.

Mr. Powell’s organization is sponsoring a 10-year campaign, dubbed “Grad Nation,” to ensure that 90 percent of current U.S. fourth-graders graduate from high school on time. The program also is aimed at helping the country meet Mr. Obama’s goal of having the highest proportion of high-school graduates by 2020.

Though he cautioned that government cannot do it alone, Mr. Obama said the public sector does have a responsibility when it comes to education.

“Government can help educate students to succeed in a college and a career. Government can help provide the resources to engage dropouts and those at risk of dropping out,” he said.