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PA Senate Considers Participation In National Guard Program For High School Dropouts

PA National Guard

Pennsylvania would become the 28th state to create a National Guard Youth Challenge Program under legislation being considered by the Senate.

Senator Stewart Greenleaf’s (R-Bucks, Montgomery) legislation would require the Department of Military Affairs to establish the program to “improve the life skills and employment potential for at-risk youths” between 16 and 18 years old by providing structured military-based training and supervised work experience.

Greenleaf said the goals of the 22-month residential program include assisting participants to earn a high school diploma or GED, develop job and leadership skills, and promote fellowship.

The youth challenge program, created in 1993 by Congress as a pilot project in 10 states, is directed at high school dropouts and is administered by the National Guard Bureau.  Neighboring West Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey are among the states that have adopted the program.

Greenleaf stressed that the program isn’t a military recruiting tool.

“It’s an effort on (the National Guard’s) part to reach out to these young people and provide them the change of life experience and education and life coping skills and job skills to turn their life around,” he said.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, nearly 14,000 teenagers dropped out of school during the 2013-14 school year, about 1.7 percent of the total high school population.

That same year, 209 students dropped out of Pittsburgh Public high schools.

According to Greenleaf, 54 percent of students involved in the program nationwide went on to earn a high school diploma or equivalent, while 85 percent were employed or in school 12 months after finishing the residential phase of the program.

Under the proposal, the federal government would pick up 75 percent of the cost of the program, while the bill proposes that the remainder would come from the state’s public education fund. The money that would have gone to a public school to cover costs associated with a student’s education would instead going to the National Guard program.