Every day, about 12,000 Philadelphia students are out of school with no excuse.
Every year, the Philadelphia School District, city courts, and the Department of Human Services spend $15 million on truancy-prevention programs.
Historically, a lack of coordination among the three means that many students still slip through the cracks - leading not just to truants, but also to dropouts. There are about 95,000 children under DHS care in city schools and in out-of-school programs.
"When you try to get two really large institutions to work together at a kid level, it's really difficult," said Lori Shorr, Mayor Nutter's chief education officer.
To try to fix that, two new, privately funded initiatives will focus on supporting at-risk students in school. They will be announced today by the Department of Human Services.
A new Education Support Center will track the educational progress of students in DHS's care, watching for early warning signs and helping smooth communications between the city agency and the district. The center will be funded by a $600,000, two-year grant from the William Penn Foundation.
A citywide truancy-reduction plan will be developed through a two-year, $200,000 grant from the Stoneleigh Center, a Philadelphia-based foundation.
DHS Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose is particularly excited about the new center, which will open next month on a pilot basis in the Northeast, Mount Airy, and Center City. It's expected to serve up to 500 children in the next two years, with a citywide rollout later.
"This should mean better outcomes for our kids," Ambrose said.
The center will send four employees into city schools to work directly with principals and teachers. If a child's foster placement changes, for instance, a center employee might work with school officials to determine whether it is best for the child to stay in his or her current school. Center staff will shepherd paperwork, train district staff, and make sure interventions are in place.
According to a recent study, a third of the city's dropouts have been in foster care or juvenile justice facilities.
"When we came in as an administration, we knew we needed to focus on those kids if we were going to move the dropout rate," Shorr said. Nutter has made as chief goals of his administration reducing the dropout rate by half and doubling the college attainment rate.
Communications have been improving between DHS and the district, but, Ambrose conceded, it's not always easy.
"I myself have a hard time navigating the School District of Philadelphia, and I'm sure the superintendent has a hard time navigating the Department of Human Services," Ambrose said. The center, she said, will take the recent collaborations that have been happening at high levels of the district and DHS and bring them to the ground floor.
Said Ambrose: "People are excited about what we can do for kids' lives."
School District Chief of Operations John Frangipani said last night that the centers would allow the district "to provide supports that we haven't before."