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VIEWPOINT: Delawareans deserve a second chance at earning a high school diploma

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State Senator Darius Brown discusses the need to fund adult basic education programs for individuals to earn a high school diploma.

State Senator Darius J. Brown

Governor John Carney and his administration deserve credit for eliminating some of the biggest hurdles that have prevented Delawareans from obtaining gainful employment in our state government.

For those who missed the news, the Delaware Department of Human Resources recently announced it would no longer require a bachelor’s degree as a mandatory condition of employment for more than 350 family service positions across the First State.

As Delaware’s unemployment rate continues to fall, building a more inclusive pathway to state employment that offers equal weight to skills and work experience will help us diversify our workforce and more rapidly fill positions critical to the public good.

Private industry is also dropping the bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite for employment as today’s tight labor market pushes companies to increasingly prioritize skills over degrees.

Earning those skills still requires an education. And a high school diploma is perhaps more important than ever for helping our neighbors take advantage of the job opportunities and economic prosperity available to them.

As elected leaders in Delaware, we still have more work to do to ensure all Delawareans are able to meet this basic level of educational attainment. That means doing more to keep our young people in school and offering second chances to adults who never completed high school.

Nearly 3,500 Delaware students dropped out of high school from 2018 to 2022. While that number represents roughly 2% of the state’s entire high school student body during that time period, that’s still a population the size of Lewes who are now attempting to navigate life without a high school diploma.

Some may have become frustrated by their low grades or the pandemic’s virtual classrooms. Some may have lost parents and had no choice but to sacrifice their education to help put food on the table. And some may have simply made a rash decision that they will come to regret in just a few years.

But all of them deserve a second chance.

That’s exactly why I formed the Adult Basic Education Task Force last year to find ways that we can better support adults in search of the skills training and education they missed as teens regardless of whether they are seeking an apprenticeship in the trades or trying to earn a GED or certification while they are imprisoned.

The good news is there are several options already available to adults seeking a second chance at an education.

Adult Delawareans seeking a diploma can attend night school through the James H. Groves Adult High School program available at six schools located across Delaware, plus a seventh all-virtual option.

Delaware students also can earn a high school equivalency diploma by passing an exam offered at one of eight testing centers. While the exam costs $120, free GED prep classes are available to help students pass their GED tests.

Adult learners are also able to enroll in basic education classes at 9 locations in New Castle and Kent counties, as well as a virtual option, all of which can help provide them with the skills they need for everyday life, such as reading, math and writing, computer literacy, English proficiency and more.

Yet more needs to be done to make sure these programs are fully funded and able to accept every adult seeking a second chance.

The adult basic education program, for instance, actually saw a 9% decrease in state funding during the Great Recession — money that has never been restored to the program. As a result, nearly 85 adults are on a waiting list to join the adult basic education or GED programs and another 500 are hoping to be accepted for the ESL program.

Our task force’s preliminary report, which will be finalized at the end of February, is recommending that Governor Carney and the Delaware General Assembly restore that funding to pre-recession levels so we can eliminate the waiting lists and get adults the education they deserve immediately.

We are also recommending that Delaware better align our adult basic education programs, vocational training and higher education with the needs of Delaware employers and better promote the offerings available to the people who need these programs the most.

My colleagues in the General Assembly have done tremendous work in recent years in providing second chances to people seeking to make up for their worst mistakes in the criminal justice system

By providing similar avenues for redemption when it comes to basic adult education, we can replace some of the most common root causes of crime with pathways to prosperity and short-circuit the traps that lead to poverty with critical services that lead to economic freedom.

Senator Darius J. Brown serves as chair of the Senate Elections & Government Affairs Committee, vice chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and as a member of the state budget-writing Joint Finance Committee.

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