ST. PAUL - Minnesotans who do not graduate from high school no longer must pay for GED tests to receive the equivalent of a diploma.

The state began paying for the tests in February and on Thursday Gov. Mark Dayton announced the aid will continue through June; he has asked the Legislature to approve another $120,000 to keep the program funded next year.

Up to 2,000 Minnesotans could get the aid, including Eddie Lema of Minneapolis, who joined the governor and said he thinks earning a GED will "open a lot of doors" for him.

Lema said he has worked for $9.25 an hour at a Chinese restaurant, but a GED will lead him to a college degree and the possibility of earning $16 an hour as a nurse.

Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben of the Department of Employment and Economic Development said someone who earns a GED can expect to earn $10,000 a year more than a high school dropout.

Even though the state as a whole has a low unemployment rate, Sieben said that many areas - especially those with high people of color populations - have high unemployment numbers.

Minnesota has paid up to $40 for GED tests, which cost $120.

The number of people taking tests has gone down since prices went up and stories spread that the test was harder, Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said. That slow-down, combined with new federal funds, gave Minnesota enough money to begin offering to pay for all Minnesotans who take the test.

Sieben said that Minnesota's economy, and thus state government, would benefit from the 37.5 percent earnings bump those with GEDs receive.

The Education Department reports that from January to March of this year, 305 greater Minnesota residents passed a GED test, while there were 309 in the seven-county Twin Cities area.

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