Legislation to Give Homeless Youth Access to High School Equivalency Exams

By Melanie Nathan, March 13, 2015.

hqy12Homeless youth across California would have greater access to the high school proficiency and equivalency exams under new legislation introduced by Senator Mark Leno. Senate Bill 252 would prohibit the Department of Education or testing companies from charging an exam fee to young people who are homeless.

“Exam fees, which cost up to $200, can create an impossible obstacle for homeless youth who wish to further their education and enhance their job prospects,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “This gives disadvantaged young people a better chance to earn higher wages so they can lead productive lives as adults.”

The equivalency and proficiency exams allow young people who have not completed high school to obtain a certificate that is equivalent to a high school degree. 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. It is also co-authored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Assemblymembers David Chiu and Phil Ting, both of San Francisco, and Assemblymember Catharine Baker, R-San Ramon.

“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.

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.

“To succeed in life, I need a GED or a high school diploma,” said Isabella Black, a client of San Francisco’s Larkin Street Youth Services, which provides services to homeless youth between the ages of 12 and 24. “Why should my success depend on having money to pay for the test?”

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.

“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.”

“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 was introduced on Feb. 27. It will be heard in the Senate Education Committee on March 25.

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