Today was the first meeting of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Education. Topics today included a discussion on NC Wise, a computer system that permits the state to acurately track attendance of students in our schools. This information generates the data for our graduation co-hort rates and drop out information. Having computers available in each of our classrooms also permits students to access online information and research. This is very important in shrinking the digital divide between urban and rural schools. This years budget did not fully fund assistive technology in our schools.
Also we received an overview of the Eckerd Wilderness Camps, part of the Eckerd Youth Aleternatives program. This is a successful model of state organizations teaming with non-profit private organizations to provide a place for high risk children. The Eckerd Wilderness program presented that of the children then serve currently 91% have been suspended, expelled, or placed in an alternative school or dropout prevention program. 34% of the students served are identified as sepcial education students with 15% of these students classified as Emotionally Disturbed. There were obvious question as to how the success of this program can assist with preventing the rising number of drop outs in our state. The obvious answer is that this program addresses not only the educational needs of the student but all the emotional and support needs of the student. They involve the parents in the process. They work with the strengths of the individual student and work to improve on the weakness of the student. It is a comprehensive approach to the total child.
In upcoming meetings this committee will adress access to higher education in our UNC system. Included in this will hopefully be a comprehensive look at disability access to our university system. Nationally there is a 71% drop out rate for students with hearing disabilities in their first year of college. The UNC system is still facing issues regarding both physical access to their buildings as well as issues with providing appropriate accademic supports to students with disabilities. House Bill 1641 Study Disabled Access to UNC Facilities passed the House Committee on Education during this past session and was included in both the House and Senate study bills. The Arc of North Carolina is advocating that HB 1641 be used as a template to study current access at the UNC campuses and that the request for action by UNC comes out of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Education.
Also on the agenda for a future meeting is SL 2007-295 (HB 17) Study Services for Students with Disabilities in High School. This bill was passed by the House and Senate during this most recent legislative session. DPI will be reporting on the progress of this study and will present the results by March 1, 2008. The current 4 year cohort graduation rate for students with disabilities in our state is 49.4%. It is imperative that this number is addressed and that we find a way to graduate more students with disabilities.
The Arc of North Carolina will be following all of the proceedings of this committee.