Money useful; permanent solution needed

It looks like some legislators are moving toward accepting Gov. Mike Beebe’s proposal to set aside almost half a million dollars in rainy-day funds to cover most of the cost of GED exams.

That’s a good thing, but it’s only a temporary fix.

The state used to pick up the whole cost for test takers, but that was when the test cost just $20. A complete overhaul of the test offered by the National GED Testing Service last year led to a price hike; the service now charges $120 per test, $30 for each section.

Clearly, with that change, fewer students were going to be able to take the test.

Last week, the Legislative Counsel endorsed Gov. Beebe’s plan to set $450,000 aside to defray most of the cost for test takers. Under the proposal, those taking the test would pay just $16, with the state picking up the rest, according to an Arkansas News Bureau report in Saturday’s edition.

Also according to that report, the Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee endorsed the plan last week.

Not everyone supports the plan. In Arkansas as in other states, some legislators object to asking the same taxpayers who fund public schools to fund tests for students who opt not to finish high school.

Janice Hanlon, state administrator of the GED through the Department of Career Education, estimated about 7,000 people took the test in 2012, including about 1,200 17-year-olds and 991 18-year-olds.

Rep. Debra Hobbs, R-Rogers, said taxpayers would be paying $104 per test for everyone who takes it. “That includes for those students who may have chosen to drop out of high school, who could receive the diploma in the traditional route,” she said.

In reply, Rep. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, noted that, although she wished everyone would complete high school, it actually costs the state less per student to pay for the test than to pay for the education.

Of course, Rep. Elliott isn’t advocating students take the GED instead of completing high school to save the state some money; she is simply saying that picking up the tab for the tests makes sense on a lot of levels. As she put it, “that’s really kind of an upside of a downside thing.”

We know that lacking a high school diploma or a GED stops people in their tracks when it comes to improving their lives. Increasingly, the jobs in our society require a minimum level of education that was not required 50 years ago. Without a diploma or GED, most people today will find themselves in dead-end, minimum-wage jobs. Even if they are smart, even if they excel at the jobs they have, they likely will be blocked from promotions or better career paths.

Getting a GED translates directly into better jobs and more money. It opens the door to college or technical schools. It creates a sense of achievement, enhances self-worth and inspires hope. GED-holders can expect to make an extra $8,000 per year over their lifetimes, according to Jim Smith, deputy director of Adult Education at the Department of Career Education. That makes it beneficial on both the micro- and macro-economic level.

Of course, rainy-day money is one-time money, and there needs to be a permanent solution to this issue. In the short term, however, this money will make a difference to people in our community, and that means it will make a difference to us.

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This editorial was originally published in the Southwest Times Record.