HELENA — The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation announced Wednesday that it is giving state schools $450,000 to help decrease the dropout rate.

State Superintendent Denise Juneau said the money will be used in the Graduation Matters program to aid local school districts in establishing programs aimed at helping struggling students.

The Office of Public Instruction said that last year about 10,000 Montana 

students graduated high school, while about 2,000 dropped out. The Washington foundation hopes the donation will help cut the number of dropouts in half.

Juneau says Graduation Matters is the centerpiece of her efforts to increase the graduation rate.

“Montanans continue to respond to the call to lower the dropout rate and improve Montana’s economic future,” Juneau said. “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.”

Montana already fares better than many other states. The U.S. Department of Education says Montana is one of 16 states with a graduation rate better than 80 percent.

Mike Halligan, executive director of the Washington foundation, said that the companies owned by Washington employ about 2,000 Montanans. He said the company recognizes it benefits by future workers do well in school.

He said the donation is the largest the foundation has ever given to a program, although there have been larger donations for large projects like buildings.

“Developing Graduation Matters programs in school districts across the state sends a message to our children that we care about them and their future,” he said. “This message is the core of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation’s mission, and we are proud to be able to support this critically important initiative.”

Juneau said schools that have so far been involved in Graduation Matters have found adults or tutors to get more involved in working with at-risk students. School districts applying for grants from the money can design their own program.

The donation will provide for grants up to $10,000 each, to as many as 45 local districts over the next three years. 

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