Adult education takes a big hit in river wards

Har­ris­burg’s re­cently passed budget made steep cuts in edu­ca­tion spend­ing. At Luther­an Set­tle­ment in Fishtown, that means no classes for hun­dreds of adults look­ing for a leg up.

Thanks to drastic cuts in this year’s state budget, edu­ca­tion ini­ti­at­ives across Pennsylvania are see­ing spend­ing for pro­grams and ser­vices drop more than $1 bil­lion.

In Phil­adelphia, those cuts are show­ing up in the form of pub­lic school lay­offs and, now, cuts to some of the only pro­grams avail­able to help adults get the skills they need to enter the work force.

In Fishtown, the cuts are hav­ing a deep im­pact on the more than 30-year-old Com­munity Edu­ca­tion and Em­ploy­ment De­part­ment at Luther­an Set­tle­ment House, 1340 Frank­ford Ave.

“We knew there was a good chance the budget could be cut,” re­called Todd Stregiel, adult edu­ca­tion in­struct­or at Luther­an Set­tle­ment.

However, he said, Luther­an Set­tle­ment was sup­posed to hear from the state De­part­ment of Edu­ca­tion — the pro­gram re­ceived about $374,000 in fund­ing last year through the de­part­ment’s Adult Ba­sic and Lit­er­acy Edu­ca­tion bur­eau — last month about con­tin­ued fund­ing.

That didn’t hap­pen.

This year, funds for all adult and fam­ily lit­er­acy pro­grams across the state were cut by about 17.5 per­cent. All of these pro­grams are fun­ded from the same pot, now at about $12.2 mil­lion.

Ac­cord­ing to Tim Eller, a state De­part­ment of Edu­ca­tion spokes­man, no de­cision has yet been made on the fu­ture of the pro­gram and, in fact, no groups have yet been no­ti­fied if they need to shut down or should pre­pare for next year.

“There’s been no of­fi­cial no­ti­fic­a­tion,” he said.

But Stregiel said the pro­gram can’t wait on word from Har­ris­burg any longer.

The pro­gram, which last year saw more than 250 stu­dents throughout its Adult Lit­er­acy, Eng­lish as a Second Lan­guage  and Gen­er­al Edu­ca­tion­al De­vel­op­ment  courses, should have star­ted an­oth­er round of classes on Ju­ly 1.

At Luther­an Set­tle­ment alone, 20 stu­dents gradu­ated to achieve a GED last year.

Since the last class gradu­ated in May, Stregiel said, the pro­gram has been closed and its four staff mem­bers have been laid off.

“We’re all laid off. We have un­til the end of Ju­ly and that’s it,” he said.

Luther­an Set­tle­ment will host com­munity meet­ings on Wed­nes­day, Ju­ly 13, at noon and on Thursday, Ju­ly 14, at 6 p.m. at 1340 Frank­ford Ave. to break the news to cur­rent stu­dents and vo­lun­teers and provide in­form­a­tion about oth­er op­tions still avail­able.

Stregiel said that as of now, the adult edu­ca­tion ser­vices, which began at Luther­an Set­tle­ment House in 1979, have been can­celled.

More than wor­ry­ing about his own fu­ture, Stregiel said, he’s con­cerned about the stu­dents. The pro­gram served res­id­ents throughout the city, and pulled heav­ily from the Span­ish-speak­ing com­munit­ies in Kens­ing­ton and North Phil­adelphia and provided ser­vices to many in Fishtown and Port Rich­mond.

Some of the stu­dents, he said, have been work­ing for years and now they will need to find sim­il­ar ser­vices else­where — a tricky en­deavor when adult edu­ca­tion pro­grams throughout the state are all see­ing sim­il­ar cuts.

“We are try­ing to help trans­fer stu­dents to oth­er schools,” said Stregiel. “We are really con­cerned with ‘how do we get them across the goal line?’ now.”

But, what sort of ser­vices might re­main for those that need them? Ac­cord­ing to state Rep. Mike O’Bri­en (D-175th dist.) cuts to edu­ca­tion pro­grams will have a ser­i­ously det­ri­ment­al ef­fect across the state.

“This is not just a Phil­adelphia is­sue,” he said. “If you look around, fund­ing for all edu­ca­tion [pro­grams] has been cut by $1 bil­lion.”

School dis­tricts, statewide, he said, have been cut by 7 to 15 per­cent over­all.

The School Dis­trict of Phil­adelphia saw 9.7 per­cent of all fund­ing cut.

“Teach­ers are be­ing laid off left and right all over the state,” com­plained the rep­res­ent­at­ive.

The $27.15 bil­lion budget ap­proved June 30 in­cludes $850 mil­lion in cuts to “line items” such as edu­ca­tion and work force pro­grams, while in­clud­ing about $70 mil­lion in tax re­lief for the busi­ness com­munity.

Worse still, O’Bri­en said, state-fun­ded col­leges like Temple Uni­versity, which he said took a 19 per­cent cut in state fund­ing, have raised tu­ition rates to make up for the loss in fund­ing.

O’Bri­en wor­ries this will make a col­lege de­gree even more dif­fi­cult for many to af­ford.

“And this is only the tip of the ice­berg. This is the stuff you’re go­ing to con­tin­ue to see, but Mar­cel­lus Shale [the nat­ur­al gas in­dustry] pays no tax,” said O’Bri­en, bring­ing up a long­stand­ing cri­ti­cism against the Corbett ad­min­is­tra­tion, which has re­fused to tax the bur­geon­ing in­dustry to bal­ance the budget.

With cuts across the state, the most af­fected could be those who need the pro­grams most of all.

Angie Leach, 35, gradu­ated from the Luther­an Set­tle­ment House’s GED pro­gram last year, and said that in the cur­rent eco­nomy, ob­tain­ing a job is in­cred­ibly dif­fi­cult, es­pe­cially without a high school dip­loma.

The Fishtown res­id­ent said that by com­plet­ing the adult edu­ca­tion pro­gram, she’s been able to ob­tain a bet­ter job.

“It’s already opened more doors,” she said.

A stu­dent that had spent her form­at­ive years in spe­cial edu­ca­tion classes in pub­lic school, Leach said she found the classes at the Luther­an Set­tle­ment House to be more en­ga­ging and tailored to her needs.

“When I was in school, I didn’t learn any­thing be­cause people didn’t care. Some teach­ers don’t want to teach you things they think you should know already,” she said.

“But he made it fun … He was the best teach­er I ever had,” she said of Stregiel.

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­

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