HELENA – Montana’s graduation rate is continuing to climb, and its dropout rate is declining, according to the 2012 Graduation and Dropout Report released on Jan. 16 by the Office of Public Instruction.

In the 2011-2012 school year, the number of dropouts decreased by more than 130 students, and the graduation rate increased by 1.7 percent to 83.9 percent.

The newly re-elected Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau has made dropout prevention her priority – and thus a statewide priority – during her tenure, something she says is paying off for Montana students and communities.

“Every student we are able to keep from dropping out of school or who is inspired to continue their education after high school benefits not only that individual, but the entire state,” Juneau said in a press release.

Since Juneau first took office in 2009, the dropout rate has declined from 5.1 percent to 4.1 percent, and the graduation rate has increased from 80.7 percent to 83.9 percent.

To coincide with the release of the 2012 Graduation and Dropout Report, OPI made available $150,000 in grants from the Graduation Matters Challenge Fund to support new and existing Graduation Matters initiatives. Each grantee will be awarded up to $10,000 to replicate successful dropout prevention strategies.

Last year, the Office of Public Instruction was awarded $450,000 from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation to support a statewide network of locally designed, community-driven efforts to increase the number of Montana students who graduate from high school ready for college and careers in the Montana workforce.

During the first year of funding from the foundation, the Graduation Matters initiative grew from 11 to 28 communities. They include: Anaconda, Belgrade, Billings, Box Elder, Bozeman, Browning, Butte, Corvallis, Great Falls, Hamilton, Hardin, Havre, Heart Butte, Helena, Kalispell, Lame Deer, Laurel, Lewistown, Libby, Livingston, Miles City, Missoula, Polson, St. Ignatius, Stevensville, Thompson Falls, Townsend and Wolf Point.

More than 65 percent of the state’s high school students now attend a school with an initiative.