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Danielle Corbin, center, and her husband, Stephen Corbin, next to her, cheer during their July 19 graduation from the Goodwill Excel Center, an adult public charter high school in Washington, D.C.
Danielle Corbin, center, and her husband, Stephen Corbin, next to her, cheer during their July 19 graduation from the Goodwill Excel Center, an adult public charter high school in Washington, D.C. (Sarah L. Voisin / The Washington Post)

Imagine having difficulty reading these words. That’s a challenge for tens of thousands of Baltimoreans who lack reading and math skills because they didn’t graduate from high school. Almost 20% of Baltimore residents age 25 years or older lack a high school diploma. Not having a high school diploma dramatically increases the chance of unemployment, makes arrest and incarceration far more likely and traps far too many of our fellow citizens in poverty.

Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake has a solution, but it requires support from our state government. Our solution is a tuition-free adult high school called the Excel Center. The Goodwill Excel Center is a proven model for helping people achieve a high school diploma. The concept was first implemented in 2010 by Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana, which has successfully scaled the program to 19 locations in its service area.

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The effects of not having a high school diploma are costly, both for individuals without one and for the community. Nationwide, 32 million adults — nearly 10% of the U.S. population — lack a high school diploma. High school dropouts are nearly three times more likely than college graduates to be unemployed and earn $10,000 less in their 30s than those with a high school diploma.

In Baltimore, the unemployment rate locally for those without a high school diploma (or “without high school graduation”) exceeds 20%, much higher than Baltimore’s 4.8% overall unemployment rate and about five times Maryland’s statewide 3.6% seasonally adjusted unemployment rate.

A Goodwill Excel Center in Baltimore will be an incredibly efficient bargain. Students will receive transportation assistance, hands-on internships and job training, academic and life coaching and free on-site child care for young children (51% of Excel Center students have children). The Excel Center uses flexible scheduling, accelerated eight-week terms and year-round classes. Students can earn free college credits and industry recognized certifications, and the center will facilitate job placement with more than 250 Goodwill employer partners.

The program has worked in Indiana. In 2017, 76% of Excel Center graduates there continued to be enrolled in a college or university for at least two years. And 70% of graduates were employed and saw a 50% wage increase six months after graduation.

In June 2018, the Maryland State Department of Education and the Maryland Department of Labor approved Goodwill’s application to open the Excel Center. The concept is unlike any current adult education program in Maryland. But funding is needed to make this game changing center a reality for Baltimore.

Here is the solution: Operating the Excel Center would cost Goodwill $1.7 million a year. Coincidentally, we’re paying the state that same amount in sales taxes collected on the donated goods we sell in our retail stores. The solution would be to allow Goodwill to retain the sales taxes it now remits to the state.

Toward that end, Sen. Guy Guzzone, a Howard County Democrat, sponsored legislation (SB-668) during the Maryland General Assembly’s 2019 session. The bill would have allowed qualified job training organizations like Goodwill to claim a credit for the expense of collecting and paying the sales and use tax. Unfortunately, the clock ran out on moving the bill amid the General Assembly’s many competing priorities.

As I testified before the Maryland Senate Budget and Tax Committee in March 2019, this tax credit will help to provide a prepared workforce in the state, thus helping to improve our economy.

We fully understand the many challenges facing our elected leaders in Annapolis, but we’re calling on the General Assembly to again take up this initiative when it convenes for the 2020 session and pass what will change people’s lives and the city in which they live.

We urge residents to contact their state delegates and senators and encourage them to make this legislative change that would provide the funds we need to welcome students into Baltimore’s first Goodwill Excel Center.

David Downey (David.Downey@cushwake.com) chairs Goodwill of the Chesapeake’s board of directors. The Baltimore city resident is also managing director of Cushman & Wakefield.

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