The Legislative Council on Friday endorsed a proposal by Gov. Mike Beebe to use $450,000 in rainy day funds to help cover most of the cost of the high school equivalency test.
With the infusion of money, the cost to take the GED will drop from $120 to just $16, said Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia.
Up until two years ago, the state covered the $20 cost of the test , but that stopped last year when the National GED Testing Service began charging the state $120 per test, or $30 for each of the test’s four parts.
Since the 2013 regular session, a number of lawmakers have expressed concern that the $120 cost meant few people would take the test. Last year, Beebe purposed using $450,000 from the rainy day fund to help offset some of the cost.
Maloch , who presented the proposal to Legislative Council, told members the Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee endorsed it earlier this week.
Janice Hanlon, state administrator of the GED with the Department of Career Education, told lawmakers that about 7,700 people took the test in 2012. He estimated 8,000 took the test last year, although she said final numbers for 2013 are not yet available.
Jim Smith, deputy director of Adult Education at the Arkansas Department of Career Education, said the additional $450,000 will help about 9,000 people take the test this year.
Rep. Debra Hobbs, R-Rogers, noted that with the additional funds, taxpayers would be paying $104 for each test.
"That includes for those students who may have chosen to drop out of high school, who could receive the diploma in the traditional route," Hobbs said.
Hanlon said about 1,200 of those who took the test in 2012 were 17-years-old, and 991 were 18-years-old.
Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, Elliott said the key to the funding is how many people it will help, and she said while she wished all students would finish high school, sometimes it doesn’t happen.
"I think about the number of students who are taking the GED," Elliott said, adding that it costs the state less for them to take the GED than to complete high School.
"That is not the way I want to get a bang for a buck, but that’s really kind of an upside of a downside thing," she said. "They could be costing what every other student is costing in the schools everyday, or we could pay for the GED."
Smith said studies have shown that high school dropouts who later pass the GED earn an average of $8,000 more per year over their lifetime compared to those who do not.