INDIANAPOLIS - School is starting again across Indiana and a new task force will set out to tackle school dropout rates.
Last year in Marion County, 1,800 students either dropped out of school or were expelled and did not graduate. Another 22,000 students were suspended.
Many believe the high dropout rate leads to crime and part of the mayor’s new anti-crime plan is to lower those numbers.
"My grandmother had died and it was kind of hard on me and I wasn't learning anything in school so I just figured I would wing it out here on the streets. And learn as I go. And that didn't turn out too well," Quonta Hughley said.
Hughley was just 16 when he dropped out of school. With no degree, a fast-food job was the best he could do for years. He finally got one decent job, but he was recently laid off.
"I had just moved in a new apartment and all of that has gone down the drain because I lost my job. And now I can't get a job," Hughley said. "It's just been really, really tough."
Keeping kids from dropping out of school is the goal of a newly formed Your Life Matters task force -- headed up by Indiana Black Expo President Tanya Bell and commissioned by Mayor Greg Ballard as part of his new anti-crime initiative.
"When you have so many students who are either dropping out of school or have been kicked out of school, we shouldn't wonder why we have a violence issue," Bell said.
Bell said national reports show African-American males in particular are three times more likely to drop out of school.
The task force was working to gather and analyze statistics and will then look for any gaps and solutions.
"Looking at what other cities are doing from an intervention standpoint. I know that there are some programs out there outside of New York and some other cities that have implemented intervention programs for dropouts to try to get them back in school or to try to get them a job," Bell said.
Now 26, Hughley is determined to change his future. With the help of West Side Community Ministry, he just enrolled in classes to earn his GED. He knows he's lucky to have a second chance.
"I've got quite a few friends who I grew up with that unfortunately has passed away. I'm 26 and they didn't even make it to see 20," Hughley said. "Stay in school. Stay in school. It's worth it. In the long run, it's worth it."
The task force’s first report is due to the mayor by mid-October.
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