On the streets of New York City in the 1960s, a youth worker named Bill Milliken and his colleagues launched a series of “street academies” that attempted to help young people who had dropped out of school complete their education and go on to college. In 1977, Milliken and his colleagues shifted their focus inside the school system and Communities In Schools was born (then called Cities In Schools).
This fledgling organization started out strong and was supported by newly elected President Jimmy Carter. Carter was a supporter of the CIS prototype during his term as Georgia governor. His influence aided in CIS’s expansion to include serving nearly 3,000 students in Atlanta, Indianapolis and New York. By 2004, CIS grew to serve nearly 1,000,000 students across 28 states in over 3,000 schools.
CIS in Texas
The first Texas CIS program came to Houston in 1979. In 1984, Governor Mark White launched an effort to overhaul the public education system in Texas. White adopted CIS as one of his Exemplary Youth Programs. As a result, the CIS program was expanded in Texas to Austin, Dallas, El Paso and San Antonio. The dropout rate for Texas in 1985 was estimated to be nearly 36 percent. Equally important, the cost for these dropouts in Texas was estimated to be $17.2 billion over the course of their lifetime.
During the next legislative session, an interim committee was formed to study ways to reduce the dropout rate in Texas. The study found dropout rates were 27 percent for whites, 34 percent for African-Americans and 45 percent among Hispanics. Similarly, 90 percent of Texas inmates were dropouts, and 67 percent of adults below the poverty line had no high school diploma.
Deeply concerned about these findings, the Texas Legislature turned to the CIS program. CIS believed that the coordination of community services was essential to meeting the needs of at-risk youth. The committee, recognizing that CIS services were provided inside the school, felt this program could most effectively address the dropout problem in Texas. Steadily, the Texas Legislature appropriated funding each session to partially fuel the expansion of CIS programs across the state. By 2005, 27 Texas CIS programs existed, serving more than 350,000 at-risk youth in over 600 schools.