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Thursday, July 30, 2009 10:29 pm

Save adult education. It saved me.

I grew up hard-working, and started at the age of 15 to supplement my family’s income when my father became very ill and required surgery. I stopped going to school in order to sustain our family, and would go on to work at the same job for 37 years.

After being terminated from the job in 2008 because the business was closing, I did not know what to do. Without a high school degree I could not apply for jobs. I learned of the opportunity to gain my General Education Development (GED) and registered. I will graduate soon, that is, unless Illinois legislators cut the program before I have the opportunity to finish.

Due to our state’s budget crisis, adult education programs are facing severe cuts. Most programs will have to close down completely, so people looking to attain their GED, participate in career preparation, or take English-as-a-Second-Language lessons are in a tough situation. Adult education classes are the only opportunity for adult learners to get back on track and advance.

People attending adult education classes work hard to keep up with the lessons and fortify lifelong skills for their professional development. Most are motivated by the desire to gain different employment with more responsibilities and higher wages. GED programs allow people to get out of poverty and support their families. According to Women Employed, 1.8 million people in Illinois do not have a high school diploma and need adult education programs.

If Illinois is to remain a desirable state for business creation, we must maintain a work force that is prepared and trained. If we do not have the human capital required, no businesses can be created or expanded and our economic slump will continue.

Illinois is harmed additionally because low-income workers are rarely allowed to progress and earn higher wages. This reduces the capacity of the state to generate more revenue in the form of income and sales taxes. As people earn more, they could afford to pay a little more in income taxes.

We expect residents of Illinois, especially immigrants, to be productive citizens. But we are about to eliminate almost every resource available to people who are ready, willing and able to better themselves.

The long-term economic and social impact of cuts to adult learning will reverberate for generations. Illinois must act quickly, and raise the revenue necessary to invest in our families.

Elia Arenas is a community activist and a student at Malcolm X College in Chicago.

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