Kaine Seeks to Improve On-Time Graduation

By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 26, 2008

The good news, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said last week in a stop at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax County, is that 81 percent of Virginia high school students received a diploma on time.

The bad news, he said: "Even with all our focus on education, one out of five students does not graduate from high school in four years."

So Kaine (D) dubbed last week "GED week," after the General Educational Development equivalency test, as he sought to redouble efforts to get more adults engaged in educational programs.

Kaine called Fairfax an innovator in adult education as he promoted an evening program at Woodson High in which adults can take classes and received a standard high school diploma.

Several GED recipients who attended the event are pursuing careers in education or business. Mary Elizabeth White, a divorce lawyer, showed off a GED she received in 1977. It was framed next to the certificate she received from the Virginia Supreme Court after she passed the bar exam a few years ago. Her GED helped her get into the Air Force, then college and eventually law school, White said.

In a technology-based economy, Kaine said, higher education is increasingly important. But nearly 600,000 adults in Virginia have no high school diploma. Fewer than 6 percent were enrolled in an adult learning program of any kind in 2006, according to a state report in September. Enrollment in such programs grew slightly from 2004 to 2006, and Kaine has made GED attainment a goal of his administration.

Still, the report said, "Virginia has its work cut out for it if it is to respond successfully to the workforce challenges of the 21st century."

Virginia is 37th nationally in state funding for adult education and literacy programs, with about $5.6 million appropriated in 2008. Spending levels for future years are likely to get close scrutiny, though, as lawmakers seek to reduce a budget deficit estimated at $2.5 billion for Virginia's next two-year budget.

This month Virginia unveiled data produced by a new system for tracking the number of students who graduate four years after starting high school. Previously, the state had relied on estimates. The state's 81 percent rate is higher than many tallies elsewhere.

On-time graduation rates vary widely across Virginia. Several Northern Virginia systems beat the statewide rate. In Fairfax County, 91 percent of freshmen in 2004 graduated in 2008. The rates were about 83 percent in Prince William County, nearly 93 percent in Loudoun County and nearly 98 percent in Falls Church.

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