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Publish Date: 5/25/2005

Dropout-prevention effort to include arts-based and vocational programs


DENVER — State taxpayers will get the chance to contribute state tax-refund money to a new dropout-prevention program for students in struggling schools, under a measure Gov. Bill Owens signed into law Tuesday.

House Bill 1024 creates the Dropout Prevention Activity Grant Program, which will be funded mainly through a new income-tax checkoff that first will show up on 2005 state tax forms.

The grants, which will help fund before- and after-school arts and vocational programs, will be available to public schools serving grades six through 12 rated “low” or “unsatisfactory” on their state School Accountability Reports.

Community organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs could also seek grants from the program.

“Students who are involved with extracurricular school activities before or after school are more likely to be invested in their education and less likely to drop out of school,” according to the bill from Brighton Democratic Rep. Judy Solano and Aurora Democratic Sen. Suzanne Williams.

The new checkoff would join more than 10 others on state tax forms.

The state Department of Revenue reported that the checkoffs on the 2003 tax forms generated nearly $1.5 million last year, ranging from $8,701 donated to a Court-Appointed Special Advocates program to $308,804 to the Colorado Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Fund.

Solano, a retired teacher who taught fifth and sixth grades at Erie Elementary School for 27 years, said Tuesday that with tight school district budgets, “some of the things that are cut out of school programs are what some of the public thinks of as fluff.”

Solano disagrees with that evaluation.

She said arts and music programs enrich students’ lives by giving them opportunities to express themselves, while vocational programs give students the chance “to use their hands as well as their minds.”

Solano said she did not know how much money the new checkoff would generate next year, but her bill would also allow the state to accept other gifts, grants and donations to fund the program.

Owens also has signed a related measure that requires school boards to adopt procedures for providing written notice to parents or guardians of students older than 16 when they drop out of high school.

Under Senate Bill 164, the policies must be in effect by Oct. 1 and will apply only to students not subject to Colorado’s compulsory-education laws.

John Fryar can be reached by e-mail at jfryar@times-call.com.

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