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Montana high school graduation rate hits highest point since 2000

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HELENA, Montana — Montana's high school graduation rate has risen to 85.4 percent, its highest point since the state's Office of Public Instruction began calculating the rate in 2000.

The percentage of graduates in the 2013-2014 school year marks the fourth consecutive year in which the graduation rate has increased. The dropout rate stayed fairly flat, increasing from 3.6 percent in the 2012-2013 school year to 3.7 percent last year.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau announced the numbers Tuesday at a Capitol news conference.

Juneau said when she took office, Montana high schools had an 80.7 percent graduation rate and a 5 percent dropout rate in the 2008-2009 school year.

"I knew we had to do better for students," she said.

She largely credits an initiative called Graduation Matters Montana, which has been funded through $450,000 in grant money as well as private donations.

Juneau cited some examples — from training all Browning school staff as dropout prevention coaches to placing three American Indian specialists in Missoula schools.

Juneau also announced a new gift of $450,000 from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation to fund Graduation Matters Montana for three more years.

She said the dropout rate needs attention and she is again introducing legislation this session to raise the legal dropout rate to age 18 or upon graduation.

Another bill seeking to raise graduation rates would provide state funding for 19-year-olds who are completing high school. Montana is the only state that doesn't provide money to schools for students that age, she said.

Gov. Steve Bullock said people should look beyond the numbers to see the students.

"We can be so excited about 85.4 percent," Gov. Steve Bullock said. "But it's not about the percentages. It's not about statistics. It's about successes. It's about the individual, the young men and women who are behind those percentages, who are going to have doors open to them that they would have never known otherwise."

Montana is likely to see economic gains as a result of the 520 additional high school students graduating between 2009-2014, according to calculations by the Alliance for Excellent Education. The Alliance estimates a $5.9 million annual boost to the state's economy going forward.

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