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Legislation Gives Homeless Youth Access to Free GED Exams


EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday September 15, 2015

A bill authored by Senator Mark Leno that gives homeless youth in California greater access to the high school proficiency and equivalency exams is headed to Governor Jerry Brown's desk. Senate Bill 252 prohibits the Department of Education and testing companies from charging an exam fee to young people who are homeless.

"Homeless youth face impossible barriers that make it difficult to graduate from high school, and yet we make it even more challenging for them to receive a diploma at a later date," said Senator Leno. "This legislation removes the financial obstacle that keeps many homeless youth from earning a diploma, which will help increase their chances of getting a job and contributing to their families and communities."

Equivalency and proficiency exams like the GED allow young people who have not completed high school to obtain a certificate that is equivalent to a high school diploma. Exam fees for these tests range between $150 and $200, which most homeless youth are unable to pay. SB 252 exempts homeless applicants from being charged these typical fees once their housing status is verified by a homeless service provider.

SB 252 is co-sponsored by the California Coalition for Youth, Housing California and National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. The bill is supported by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and the California Department of Education, which has designated funds to reimburse testing contractors for the loss of any fees. It is also co-authored by a large, bipartisan group of lawmakers.

"The costs of low graduation rates are extremely high for our young people and society," said Paul Curtis, Executive Director of the California Coalition for Youth. "People who do not graduate from high school are more likely to have poor health, enter the criminal justice system and contribute less to the economy."

Nearly 270,000 California students experienced homelessness during the 2012-13 school year. More than a quarter of these students were enrolled in grades 9 to 12, a time frame during which the dropout rate for homeless students is about 75 percent.


"Because homelessness can make graduating from high school unattainable, proficiency exams are critical to enhancing a youth's future earning power and stability," said Patricia Julianelle, Director of State Projects and Legal Affairs with the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.


The loss in lifetime earnings that results from more than 75 percent of homeless youth in California not graduating from high school is $5 billion dollars, and the loss of contributions to California's society is $3.2 billion, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness.


"Children who grow up without safe and stable homes have few chances to break the destructive cycle of poverty," said John Bauters, Policy Director with Housing California. "This legislation gives homeless youth who have left school a second chance at a good education."


SB 252 received bipartisan support in both houses of the Legislature. Governor Jerry Brown has until Oct. 11 to take action on the bill.