Mock debate

Mock debate (Tracy Gruen, for the Chicago Tribune / March 11, 2014)

Students who are in the process of earning their GED had an opportunity to participate in a mock debate on increasing the minimum wage with a state legislator at the Palatine Opportunity Center.

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz took the "con" side of increasing the minimum wage, showing students the negative aspects of paying workers more.

Kathy Millin, director of the center, said students have been participating in mock debates on topics they are passionate about. The GED program has an emphasis on non-native English speakers and their test includes an essay that is supported by facts. The debates are a way to help the students prepare for the test.

"We are pro, because we need a little bit more money," said student Carmen Young during last week's debate. She talked about the challenges of the cost of living. "Healthy food is the most expensive food."

Young is earning her GED through a program in which Harper College instructors teach at the Palatine Opportunity Center. The classes are free as is day care. The program also is supported by the Illinois Community College Board that provides grant funding for family literacy and adult education.

"I'm a single mom," said Dulce Hernandez, during the debate. "I have to have two jobs to pay my bills. I think if I get more money, I will be able to spend more time with my children," something she doesn't get to do now.

Nekritz pointed out that some employers will lay off more workers if the minimum wage goes up and that prices of goods could increase. She also brought up the idea of keeping the minimum wage the same for teens and raising it for older employees.

"I was pleased to hear the way you presented it," said Nekritz, about the three students who participated in the mock debate. "It was your story."

Hearing how issues affect constituents really helps legislators, Nekritz said.

"I applaud all of you for making a decision to do something about your education," she said.

The Palatine Opportunity Center provides a variety of services for people who are making minimum wage and need assistance. The center includes medical services provided by a Cook County clinic, a community health nurse, ESL classes, programs for high-risk kids, a preschool program, exercise classes, and more.

Before the students started the debate, they were able to share some of their concerns about other issues with Nekritz.

Robert Alfaro urged her to look into improving transportation in the area by adding more bus stops, stating how expensive it is to take a taxi to and from work. He also said that if the minimum wage were increased, fewer people would depend on food stamps.

"We have students getting their GEDs and can't get to Harper College to continue," said Millin.

"We've got to find a different way to fund transportation," said Nekritz, agreeing that it is a big issue for many people.

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