In March, 2013, the Legislature adopted an amendment to allow a fair bidding process for high school equivalency tests to be administered throughout the state. Although it passed both chambers unanimously, Governor Martinez later pocket vetoed it. Coincidently, on that very same day, in fact, the Public Education Department (PED) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which requires that PED will exclusively contract with Pearson PLC to administer GED tests.
In a July Legislative Education Study Committee (LESC) meeting, PED staff testified that the price for the equivalency test (GED) was increasing from $35 to $120. This price is paid by the taker of the equivalency test, i.e. New Mexico citizens. In the same hearing the committee heard additional testimony that there were at least two other companies who were able to provide the same testing services for prices in the $45-$60 range. Knowing the price of the GED test would be increasing, the Higher Education Department (HED) testified they would issue a request for information for alternatives to the Person PLC GED test. PED told the LESC they would participate in that effort.
After the request was issued, I suggested PED allow for a fair bidding process, so other testing contractors who offer high school equivalency tests at a lower price could compete. To date, PED has not sought out other companies and continues requiring New Mexicans to pay the higher price of $120 per test by insisting on using Pearson, PLC. The MOU with Pearson PLC can be broken at any time. So why, I ask, is PED unwilling to consider the effects that a cost-hike has on people, who may be at the low end of the socio economic pole.
According to the United States Census Bureau, a 2009 study showed that GED certificate holders earned less than those who had a regular high school diploma, regardless of any other factors having to do with age, sex or race. The study states, “overall, high school diploma holders earned approximately $4,700 in mean monthly earnings compared with GED certificate holders, who earned $3,100.”
Besides income, there are many other factors that affect the choice to opt to take the GED rather than completing high school. Many of us might know at least one person who, under straining circumstances, had to take the GED because they were forced to take a minimum wage job to assist their families with bills or had to stay home to take care of children.
People were once able to earn their GED’s in 29 locations throughout the state. Community colleges used to be able to prepare students for tests, and purchase licenses to administer testing on location. Now the legislature is being told by PED that only Pearson certified institutions can administer GED tests. It’s unclear how many testing locations will have the resources to undergo expensive retrofits in order to administer this higher priced, newly computer-based test. Only a portion of the profit made from these tests goes back to the testing center — the rest is pocketed by Pearson PLC.
With consistent out-of-state contracts given to large corporations at the expense of public education in New Mexico, one has to wonder what the motives of the administration are. This type of treatment and disrespect to the people of this state who are trying to better themselves through education is only contributing to their difficulty in advancing or betterment. We cannot continue to privatize the very services we offer citizens to provide a fair chance in becoming successful in a capitalist country.
State Senator John Sapien represents New Mexico District 9 (Bernalillo & Sandoval Counties)