Iowa legislation would help community college programs - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Iowa legislation would help community college programs

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

How to spend our state's half billion dollar surplus continues to be a big debate in Des Moines.

Some lawmakers are pushing for property tax reform, while others say spending more money on education is a better way to grow the economy.

"We've got jobs all over the state of Iowa sitting open, not because property taxes are too high, but because there's no one to fill them because their skill sets don't match," said Sen. Bill Dotzler (D) Waterloo.  (View his full remarks here.)

But Senate File 429 could help fix that by giving more than $20 million to support community college programs from workforce training to GED classes.

More than 14-hundred students come to Hawkeye Community College's Waterloo Metro Center each year to get their GED.  Many of those students go on to get college degrees.  There's a relation to their success, and helping lower their need for government help, like welfare.

That's why Hawkeye is thrilled about possibly getting state support to fund GED education and workforce training.

Tina Key is a high school drop out.  She's learned how hard it is to be successful without a diploma.

"I've had more trouble than you think.  My first jobs were grocery stores, and I want something that's better," Key said.

That's why Key is studying to get her GED.          

In a down economy, the GED program's seen a lot more demand, but federal dollars to support it are shrinking, and right now, Iowa's One of just three states with zero state support for GED classes.  So finally getting state dollars with SF 429 would be a big deal. 

"We can serve more students.  We can hire more teachers, and offer classes at more times of the day, and meet more local demand for the GED," said Sandy Jensen, Hawkeye CC Metro Center Manager.

More GED's also puts more students in college, getting skills to fill jobs in high-demand fields.

Hawkeye Community College says Iowa employers are begging for workers with skills like welding.  And with more state money, they'll also have the ability to train more students to meet the demand.

Richard Rice got his GED through Hawkeye, and is now about to graduate.  With an estimated 600,000 skilled worker jobs open nationwide, he's optimistic about being able to provide a better future for his family.

"I've got a few feelers out, and the prospects are really that I'll be able to find a good job," said Rice.

Success stories like his also pull more people off of government assistance programs, benefiting the state's economy.

Key is already planning her future, which includes nursing school.  She hopes the legislature will approve funding to help other students achieve their dreams, too.

"Everybody deserves the opportunity," Key said.

Another big piece of the proposed bill would help immigrants with English as a second language courses.  At Hawkeye's metro campus, students from over 50 countries take advantage of those classes.  Many of them go on to get their GED's and college degrees after that.

SF 429 been referred to the appropriations committee.  The Iowa house has a similar version of the bill, but it has less funding to support community colleges.

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