State to have ‘dropout czar’; Education chief says disjointed retention effort needs revamping

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 23A

Texas will soon have a “dropout czar” to oversee all of the state’s efforts to keep children in school, the new education commissioner said this week.

Felipe Alanis, who took office on April 1, said the Texas Education Agency needed to do a better job of coordinating the work it does to stem Texas’ dropout problem.

“I’ve asked the staff to look at all the elements of the agency and see how we can integrate them better,” he said.

TEA’s dropout efforts are divided among different parts of the agency, including those who oversee alternative schools, adult education, accountability reporting and other areas. The reorganization would create a dropout division within TEA, and agency employees who deal with the dropout problem would report directly to its leader.

According to official state data, about 1.3 percent of Texas students in grades 7 through 12 drop out of school each year. But critics say those numbers underestimate the size of the problem. A study conducted last year for The Dallas Morning News by the education research group Just for the Kids estimated that 20 percent of students who entered Texas high schools in 1994 did not graduate within five years.

“I don’t want to argue much about numbers: They’re high, we know that,” Dr. Alanis said.

The reorganization will be completed sometime this summer, Dr. Alanis said. Details of the new structure and who will lead the dropout unit have not been determined.

Dr. Alanis was appointed commissioner by Gov. Rick Perry after Jim Nelson resigned the post to enter the private sector. From 1995 to 1999, Dr. Alanis served as deputy commissioner for programs and instruction, one of the positions likely to be affected by the reorganization.

Mr. Perry cited Dr. Alanis’ work with dropouts as a West Texas superintendent in the early 1990s as one of the reasons for his selection.