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Buffalo Shows Turnaround of Urban Schools Is Possible, but It Takes a Lot More Than Just Money

In Buffalo, a Rust Belt city still grappling with high poverty and an under-educated population, the results of the Say Yes program have exceeded expectations. Since its launch in 2012, the city’s high school graduation rate has climbed 15 points, to 64 percent, according to New York State education department figures, the highest rate the city has achieved in more than a decade.

And black and Latino students have seen the most dramatic improvements, significantly narrowing the graduation gap with their white peers. According to Say Yes, it has awarded roughly 4,000 tuition scholarships, and the number of Buffalo schools classified as “in good standing” by the state’s education department has almost doubled since 2012, from 11 to 20.

The Say Yes promise of universal free college tuition to all Buffalo public school graduates has grabbed public attention. But Say Yes also provides students with support specialists like Stubbe, access to medical and dental care, mental health counseling and legal clinics, plus after-school enrichment activities, college-readiness programs and mentoring; it provides students’ parents with job-readiness workshops and referrals to housing services.