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Low graduation rate draws Florida lawsuit

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Under the state-required reporting system, the graduation rate in the Palm Beach County District last year was 71.4 percent. The suit claims that other methods of calculation would yield an even lower rate. But either way, it argues, the success level is inadequate. It also notes that in Palm Beach County, the state-reported rate for whites was 29 percentage points higher than that of African-Americans and 20 points higher than that of Hispanics.

Some observers say they'd be surprised to see the case go far unless the state is also brought in as a defendant, because the state determines so much education policy and funding. To others, the suit skirts over the role of individuals, families, and society in ensuring that students qualify for a diploma.

The plaintiffs argue there's more the district can be doing. "The graduation rates in Palm Beach County are shamefully low," says Vanita Gupta, an ACLU staff attorney in New York. The district needs to "live up to its constitutional obligations [in Florida] to provide a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high-quality education."

"We all want to see graduation rates rise," counters the district's superintendent, Arthur Johnson. The suit is "misguided" and designed to get attention, he says. "We do have a gap [in graduation rates].... But so does the state, so does the nation.... Suing Palm Beach County is not going to solve it."

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