By Rep. Elaine Gannon, R-De Soto
Education issues are typically a hot topic at the Missouri Assembly. This is laudable, as we must continuously strive to do the best job possible for students. However, while debate over what course to take to best serve students, parents, teachers, schools and communities is sometimes necessary, so at times is taking swift action to fix a clear problem. While we evaluate the big changes for education in our state, we also can make incremental changes, and sometimes in the Missouri Assembly, that’s the most pragmatic course for a legislator to take to get something done.
While solutions vary, one of the key principles from which to evaluate education is that every student, regardless of any demographic, such as race, income-level, learning challenged or gifted, has the right to receive the best opportunity our state can provide to pass high school and either pursue higher education, enter a vocational field, start a business, or do whatever else he or she choose to do to be a productive member of society. That’s why I re-filed HB 2238 last session to make the high school equivalency exam free for students who have dropped out of high school and who are first time test takers, and I will be doing so again this coming session. This bill passed the House last year by an overwhelming vote of 140-12, and it passed the Senate unanimously the session before last. It hasn’t been finally passed yet and sent to the Governor’s desk yet, however, and we can work together and get it done next session.
The facts are these:
We as taxpayers can pay now and help to give students a hand up instead of a handout, or we pay later: 68% of people in prison have not passed high school. There are, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, about 12,000 students a year that do not pass high school, although this number, as you would expect, fluctuates. Too often, limited choices for viable employment leads to a downward spiral that includes joining gangs, addiction to drugs or other addictions, or a life that ends violently and pre-maturely. As a state we pay-out welfare, continuously evaluate whether or not to expand paying for health care, and sometimes we pay funeral costs.
Over the course of two sessions, legislators in both House and Senate have agreed that it makes fiscal and cultural sense to give students who have dropped out of high school the opportunity to eliminate the biggest barrier to taking the high school equivalency exam, or HI-SET, which is its cost. The impetus for this bill is that the cost of GED (GED is a brand name, like Kleenex), was going up to $120 dollars. DESE found the HI-SET test instead, which costs less, but cost still remains the highest barrier.
Removing the barrier of cost give first time test takers who can’t afford the obstacle of cost a second chance. Facts speak for themselves, however, we also must ask ourselves: What do we stand for? Do we want to be a state that believes in second chances? Was there ever a time when we were in high school when we made a mistake and we had the benefit of a parent, or a teacher, or a coach, or someone in the community step in to guide us? We were lucky. Not every student gets this chance. Conventional wisdom of students having help, aside, not every parent is present whether or not by choice or by circumstance, and sometimes our systems in place fail our students, whether it’s at home or in the classroom, due to peer pressure, or other situations too numerous to describe.
There are many worthy education initiatives being debated. As we proceed, let’s make sure we give every student the opportunity to pass high school so they can pursue obtaining a viable job and living a life of dignity.