Not everyone goes to high school and walks away with a diploma. In fact, about 45,000 people in Boone and Winnebago counties lack a high school diploma or General Educational Development certificate. Those numbers are evidence of what education and workforce leaders have labeled a “regional GED crisis.”

Individuals who don’t have a diploma have the ability to learn. But they need help to obtain the necessary credentials to get jobs that pay enough to support a family.

Goodwill Industries of Northern Illinois wants to provide those opportunities by pursuing an Excel Center, a high school that would provide adult education and vocational training.

However, Illinois does not award high school diplomas to those who are 21 or older so state law must be changed if Rockford is going to have its own Excel Center, which is based on a model that has been successful in Indianapolis.

Fortunately, local legislators Rep. John Cabello, R-Machesney Park, state Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford, Rep. Litesa Wallace, D-Rockford, and Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, see the need and are stepping up to help by drafting bills that would allow a school like the Excel Center to open and operate in Rockford.

It will be up to the House and Senate leaders whether a bill is called on which to be voted. We urge leaders to allow a vote, and we encourage lawmakers to say yes.

This is about more than giving people a second chance; it’s also an economic development opportunity for this region and the state of Illinois.

Businesses must have ready access to the skilled workers they need to compete in a 21st century global economy. Many business owners have been complaining because they haven’t been able to find workers with the proper skills to do the jobs they need. Many of those jobs require more than a high school diploma or GED, but you need those basics before you can progress to advanced education.

Companies looking to relocate judge the ability of the local workforce. The more educated and skilled the workers, the better the chance that new businesses will come here and existing businesses will grow here.

The Indianapolis Excel Center started in 2010 and has been expanded into a network of 11 Excel Center charter high schools throughout greater Indianapolis. More than a thousand adults have earned a high school diploma and found a decent-paying job or are on a path to one.

Austin, Texas, and Memphis, Tennessee, have emulated Indianapolis’ model because it works. Let’s get Rockford on the list.

Meanwhile, Goodwill and Rock Valley College are teaming up to help adults who missed out on that high school diploma.

http://www.rrstar.com/article/20160412/OPINION/160419856