Blakeslee education bill goes to governor’s desk

A bill designed to help “at-risk” youngsters by lowering the age for GED testing in California to 17 has passed through the Legislature and gone to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, who shepherded the bill, originally sought to help young men and women at Camp San Luis Obispo’s Grizzly Academy, but eventually expanded his legislation to include all high school dropout recovery programs throughout California.

The Grizzly Academy is a voluntary five-month residential charter high school run by the National Guard and the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education for at-risk youths age 16 to 18 at Camp San Luis Obispo.

The legislation would again allow graduates of the academy to earn a GED diploma at the age of 17.

The age limit for the GED test was raised to 18 in 2008 by an administrative policy change, and the effects of that were immediately clear, Blakeslee said.

Blakeslee called the move a barrier to success for at-risk students.

In 2007, 115 Grizzly Youth Academy students took the GED test. That number dropped to 14 students in 2008 because of the change.

“Many of these youth come to the program severely behind in credits,” Paul Piette, the academy’s principal, said in February. “A diploma was far out of their reach, but in this program they’ve made a commitment to furthering their education.”

Piette said assisting the students in getting their GED is needed to help them get to the next phase in their lives — either into college or the workforce.

“If it can’t happen while they are here — they lose that support,” Piette said.

Grizzly is one of two California National Guard Youth Challenge programs. There are 32 such programs throughout the country; students at all but the two programs in California can take the GED test before they are 18 years old.

“California stands alone in its efforts to thwart student progress,” Blakeslee said. “Many of these teens are at a moment in their lives that if they don’t get their GEDs, they may never.”