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Mississippi Revives “On the Bus” Campaign to Lower Dropout Rate

By Daniel Cherry | Published 22 Mar 2011 11:44am | comments

Mississippi's rate of high school students who drop out before graduation is currently around sixteen and a half percent. MPB's Daniel Cherry reports on how the state board of education plans to use a new program to lower that percentage.

If the Mississippi Board of Education wants to hit their goal of lowering the dropout rate to 13 percent by 2013 they've got some work to do. Mississippi averages approximately thirteen thousand dropouts per year. Board of Education spokesman Pete Smith says that's not conducive to developing a skilled work force.

"Gone today are those jobs where you could earn a good living by being manual labor. It's all done by robotics and engineering and so you have to go to school to be educated to know how to work those machines."

Dropouts are exponentially more likely to live in poverty, receive government assistance, or become incarcerated...all problems which cost the state hundreds of millions annually. The board of education has teamed up with the Mattie C. Stewart foundation to tackle the issue. Dr. Shelley Stewart is the founder.

"This is very important workforce development. If you don't have the proper education you're not going to get the jobs. I call it homeland security. In order to secure our United States of America we must have a better educated citizenry."

The Mattie Stewart foundation is now showing the Choice Bus. It's a rolling display...half classroom...half jail cell. Marshun Watkins from Powell Middle School in Jackson was one of the first to tour the bus. He talks about what he learned.

"Seventy five percent of the people who dropped out of school are in jail right now and then eighty percent of the ones don't know how to read or write. I want to be one of the ones who makes the right choice and doesn't go to jail."

Pete Smith from the Board of Education says the bus is an effort to rejuvenate Mississippi's On the Bus Campaign. Funding cuts had set the program back, but Smith says the state is still committed to meeting their previous goals. Daniel Cherry...MPB News. 

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