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$130 Million Committed to Boost High School Graduation and College Attendance Rates Throughout Texas

Public-private efforts to strengthen low-performing schools and create new academically rigorous schools aimed at helping underserved students

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Renee Austin 
Weber Shandwick
Phone: 816.547.8232  

Laurey Peat
Laurey Peat + Associates, Inc.
Phone: 214.871.8787

DALLAS -- Texas Governor Rick Perry, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Communities Foundation of Texas (CFT) today announced the launch of the Texas High School Project (THSP), a public-private initiative designed to increase high school graduation and college attendance rates, particularly among underserved students across the state. The joint effort, which amounts to $130 million in funds for Texas high schools, will support efforts to bolster existing schools and create innovative new schools focused on achievement, rigor and personalized learning. 

"The state of Texas is committed to making sure all Texas students are ready for college and the job market of the future," said Governor Rick Perry. "With the help of these foundations, as well as the work of dedicated teachers and parents, Texas will be able to give all young Texans the academic support they need to reach their potential in the economy of the 21st Century." 

According to a recent study from the Manhattan Institute, only 70 percent of public high school students nationwide graduate, and just 32 percent leave high school prepared for college-level work. For minority students, the situation is much worse, with only half of African-American and Hispanic students graduating, and fewer than 20 percent being college ready. 

Texas has made strides in improving achievement in grades K-8 but like other states, has struggled with high school dropout rates and college attendance rates. Last year, on more than 1,000 public high school campuses throughout Texas, more than half of all 10th grade students failed at least one part of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge & Skills (TAKS) statewide exams – one of the best indicators of college readiness in the state. And nearly 500 secondary campuses in the state have been labeled “needs improvement” under guidelines set in the federal No Child Left Behind law. 

“It is critical that we work to transform schools throughout the state so our children are encouraged and inspired to meet their greatest potential,” said Susan Dell, co-founder and CEO of the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. “To accomplish this feat, our schools must equip children with the life skills they need to help themselves and motivate at-risk children to change the way they think about their future. Every child has the right to a college education, a satisfying career, and a path to success. Let’s help them find it.” 

The state of Texas will invest more than $65 million in THSP. Included in this effort will be grants of $15,000 to $600,000 to 140 school districts to improve low-performing high schools by offering at-risk students increased attention and services designed to help them graduate ready for college. Grants to the first set of 70 districts will be released in February 2004, and a second round of grants for another 70 districts will be released in September 2004. 

Foundation investments include $35 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, $20 million from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, $7 million from the Communities Foundation of Texas and at least $2.5 million from other foundations. These funds will be used to redesign existing underperforming high schools and to create new ones, including schools that focus on math, science and technology; charter schools based on proven, successful models; and early college high schools that allow students to earn their high school diploma and an associate’s degree, or two years of college credits, concurrently.

Disadvantaged low performing schools throughout Texas will be awarded grants for new schools. Districts will be chosen based on their plans to create schools that embody attributes commonly associated with successful schools, including teacher involvement, challenging and relevant coursework, emphasis on college readiness and enrollment of no more than 400 students each. Grant giving for redesigning or creating new schools will begin in August 2004 and end in October 2008.  

“Our best hope for reforming failing schools is to give young people high schools where the curriculum fits their individual needs, where teachers know them by name and where everyone expects them to succeed,” said Tom Vander Ark, executive director of education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “By focusing resources on its most troubled high schools and setting high standards for all its students, Texas recognizes that even the most at-risk youth can graduate and go to college.” 

Some of the new high schools will be modeled after schools that have proven successful at raising achievement levels. One of these model schools is High Tech High, a charter school in San Diego. High Tech High focuses on preparing students for careers in technology and science. Nearly two-thirds of High Tech High students meet or exceed state math and English language arts standards on the California Standards Test, compared to just 30 percent statewide. Nearly 90 percent of the school’s 10th graders successfully passed the 12th grade California High School Exit Exam. 

The CFT and Texas Education Agency, along with the support of Gov. Perry, will manage THSP. THSP will collaborate with a variety of additional organizations to achieve its goals, including colleges and universities, private and corporate foundations, business and education groups, and school districts.


The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF) was created to fund initiatives and programs designed to remove barriers that prevent children from achieving their greatest potential. With an endowment of more than one billion dollars, MSDF proactively seeks out opportunities to support or develop programs that address the five essential focus areas of children’s health, education, safety, youth development and early childhood care. Using a collaborative, outcomes-driven approach, MSDF identifies programs and community leaders that share its vision of creating enduring systemic change for children.

The Communities Foundation of Texas, a public charity, was founded in 1953 and represents donors, offering a unique program of responsible investment, optimal tax benefits, and effective grantmaking. As the largest community foundation in the South, CFT professionally manages more than 750 component funds, with combined assets of well over a half-billion dollars and has distributed more than $600 million in charitable grants since its inception.

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