Gov. Jan Brewer's budget proposal would cut adult education funding in the state.
Estela Delgado, 38, hopes to one day become a dental hygienist.
But first, the Chandler mom to five girls must complete her GED - the high school equivalency diploma - so she can enroll in classes.
"I want them to look up to me," she said of her daughters during a break from her General Education Development test classes in Mesa this week.
Delgado and several of her classmates taking the classes through the Mesa Unified School District's community education department are all worried that their dreams may be dashed by Gov. Jan Brewer's proposal to cut adult education funding in the state.
The governor's proposal was released in January as part of her recommended cuts for 2010-11.
Arizona's lawmakers would need to approve the plan for it to become a reality.
Arizona faces more than a $3 billion shortfall next fiscal year, which begins July 1. As part of Brewer's cost-savings measures, she proposed cuts to nonformula education funding, which includes adult education, state funding of gifted programs, tutoring assistance for Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, and more.
Should the state cut its funding of adult education, it could lose the federal dollars that also support the program, said Karen Liersch, deputy associate superintendent for adult education services at the Arizona Department of Education.
This fiscal year, the department was allocated about $4.5 million from the state and more than $11 million from the federal government to offer classes, maintain a record of transcripts and diplomas for students, and partially fund testing sites where students go to take their final exams.
"If we lose 100 percent of state funds, we would lose 100 percent of federal dollars," Liersch said.
Some dollars might still be available from other sources for the state to maintain some testing sites and keep diploma records, Liersch said. But there would likely be a huge delay on when students could access test scores and records to provide to colleges or employers.
Students pay to take their exams, in some cases $75. Depending on where students are enrolled, they may be charged a nominal fee for that as well.
More than 40,000 adults receive some type of service - from GED preparation classes to English acquisition classes to testing and adult basic education - through the state's education department each year. The state runs 80 testing locations.
"Last year we had 14,500 adults pass the (GED) test," Liersch said. "They were able to get their high school diploma, get a job, get into the military, enter post-secondary education. That's really good for the state economy."
All adults who receive services are required to show that they are legally in the United States.
Arizona has an immigrant population of more than 250,000, and there are 750,000 adults in Arizona who do not have a high school degree.
"That's a target group of one million, and we're serving about 40,000 a year," she said.
Mesa resident Eric Secor, 35, is one of those adults. He dropped out of high school at 17 to start working. About two decades later - following a long, successful career in construction - he was laid off.
"I never had to worry about a job," the father to eight children said. "On Sept. 25, 2009, I was laid off. The economy was drying up. I tried to get a GED 20 years ago," but a busy life - and family - kept that from happening.
Secor said he anticipated a job loss with the decline in construction in Arizona, but he ran into roadblocks seeking other employment.
"I tried to get a job everywhere. I would interview and they said, 'We cannot hire you,'" because he did not have a diploma.
His wife is working full-time while he prepares for his GED test so he can enter ministry school.
Christine Niven, adult education specialist for the Mesa district, said most students enrolling in classes are between 25 and 44 years old.
"They're students who dropped out of school. Right now, a lot of them are coming back to school because they're unemployed. It's an opportunity for them to improve their skills so they have better chances of getting a job," she said.
Her department is discussing ways to keep the program through grants or more fee-based classes with employers should funding be cut.
Mesa Community College saw a 30 percent jump in the number of students enrolling for the GED test at its site in the last year, said Kimberly Reely, coordinator of testing services and chief GED examiner at MCC.
"The testing center at MCC is funded solely by the amount the students pay for their tests. That covers the cost of the test and staff," Reely said.
MCC also offers GED preparation courses through its community education department.