A local woman made an impassioned plea to legislators to retain funding for an education program she said has changed her son's life.
Gylinda Gonzales said during a legislative video conference in Havre Wednesday that the YouthBuild program and the state Adult Basic Literacy and Education GED preparation has turned around her son, David Gonzales.
“I would hate to see somebody else not be able to get their kid there. My son would not have graduated high school. He would have been on food stamps, he would have been on Medicaid, who knows what crime he would have been into …, ” Gylinda Gonzales said. She said she “was really scared for him when he wasn’t making it in high school, and when he made this huge turn with the ABLE program over at (District IV Human Resources Development Council), that says something.”
The Legislature has proposed cutting the $525,000 the state appropriates for the ABLE program, which also would eliminate $1.1 million in matching federal funding.
The YouthBuild program hosted at Montana State University-Northern is supported by a nationwide program, which receives federal as well as private funding to help local programs.
In the program, at-risk people ages 16 to 24 work toward their GED while learning job skills in construction and helping their communities by building housing units.
In Havre, the program is tied to the ABLE program at HRDC, which helps prepare the students for taking their GED tests.
Gonzales said her son, who was in the bottom 3 percent of his high school class, now is scoring in the top 16 percent in the nation in math and is above 34 percent in science of the people taking the GED tests.
Before enrolling in YouthBuild, he had planned to drop out of education, she said.
“And, I’m really scared that the money won’t be here for the next kids, ” Gonzales said.
Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, told Gonzales that her story illustrates the need and success of innovation in education.
“I’m really disappointed the charter schools bill failed, because a lot of other (states) have been able to use different approaches like that in school to help kids succeed, ” she said.
Sen. Rowlie Hutton, R-Havre, said the key is to set an environment to develop Montana’s natural resources, which will provide funding for the schools and allow better training to create more high-paying jobs, creating a friendly circle of improvement to the economy.
“I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I do want to take you back to the fact that we are working with a very limited budget, ” Hutton said. “We are working very hard from early morning until late at night to try to figure out, OK, how do you fund different situations, how do you prioritize it.
“Everybody’s had to take at least a haircut and some people have had to take even more than that, ” he added.
Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, said the alternative programs like what Gonzalez talked about are exactly what are needed — and that even if it is cut or reduced, that doesn’t mean the funding won’t be restored in future sessions.
“I absolutely, wholeheartedly agree with you that YouthBuild and other programs like it need to be a very active part of our public education system, ” she said. “And, what we have to do is figure out how to get the public education system to work with us to allow new ideas to stay in place without public education feeling like were discounting them, because we aren’t.
“But not every kid succeeds in the public schools and having options for kids, where they can succeed is whats going to make Montana a good place to be, ” Hansen said.