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National Guard could set up school for dropouts

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The Idaho Senate will vote on setting up a program backed by the National Guard to help high school dropouts earn a degree. The “Youth ChalleNGe” program would open a school in Pierce in north central Idaho that would draw up to 120 potential students at a time for military-based discipline and training combined with educational instruction.

Adj. Gen. Gary Sayler, the head of the Idaho National Guard, said the program is part of a national effort for the Guard to help teens. “”We're trying to get them back on the right track,” Sayler told

If approved, the program would start next summer. Idaho boys and girls aged 16 to 18 who dropped out of school and don't have a major criminal record could attend the half-year program, with the goal of getting a General Educational Development (GED) certificate. Statistics from other states suggest that 95 percent of graduates get a job, continue their education, or join the military, with 18 percent joining the military.

“This isn't only for military recruitment purposes,” said Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls.

Lawmakers on the Senate Education Committee approved moving the plan forward Monday. Most of the money for the program would be funded by the federal government. The Albertson Foundation has agreed to pay $450,000 for the program for four years.

The state needs to pay $300,000 for the fund for the next year, which would be covered by grants from the Idaho Department of Commerce, which go to support jobs and rural communities in Idaho. That money originally comes from the taxpayer-supported general fund, though it's already been appropriated to the department. Sayler said Gov. Butch Otter is committed to funding the program without using general fund dollars, which would require more private donations.

Department of Commerce Director Don Dietrich called the program a home run, since it would create jobs in an economically crippled area and prevent young adults from falling through the cracks. “This is an opportunity to give them a hand up and get back to work in a productive way,” Dietrich told lawmakers Monday.

The program could create approximately 50 jobs for teachers and other staff, as well renovate a high school in Pierce.

Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, a West Point graduate, asked Dietrich why the state was using economic development funds to pay for a government program. Dietrich said that almost all the time, money from the department goes to private businesses.

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Gary Sayler leads the Idaho National Guard, Gary Sayler leads the Idaho National Guard
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