Teachers from Lutheran Settlement’s Community Education and Employment Department (CEED) informed their students last week that, due to slashes in state funding for adult literacy programs, their entire program had been cut. The July 14 meeting, attended by more than 30 students, was held at the Lutheran Settlement House on Frankford Avenue in Fishtown.
Staff members assured the students that they will personally help students connect with another program.
At the meeting, students received a packet of information that included contact information for elected officials, templates to send letters to those officials to speak out on the need for adult literacy programs, information about alternative adult literacy centers and other pertinent information. After the announcement, students broke into small groups with their teachers to discuss future options, which include potential part-time volunteer staffers, and help from 25 Saint Joseph’s University Service Learning students.
Also included in the packet were instructions to call Christopher Strenge, the referral specialist for the Mayor’s Commission on Literacy at 215-686-5250, located in the main branch of the Free Library at 1901 Vine St. Depending where in the city the student lives, they will receive information about a literacy program in their neighborhood.
Despite the setback, CEED Director Betty Johnson vowed her and her staff would be back with “a larger, stronger program.” She demanded the students be strong, and continue to be their own advocates.
In the meantime, Johnson and her three staff-members have been laid off.
“The tears have turned to rage,” said Johnson, who has been with the Lutheran Settlement House, located at 1340 Frankford Ave., since July, 1998. “We’re not gonna stand for this bull… Remember, without education there is no representation.”
“This is not the last you hear from us,” she said. “We’re coming back and we’re coming back strong.”
Citywide, funding for 18 of 24 adult literacy programs has been cut, according to interim executive director at the Lutheran House, Kelly Davis.
Statewide, funds for all adult and family literacy programs were cut by about 17.5 percent.
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.
“I took a gigantic step to do this and now I feel like someone turned around and smacked me in the face,” said Joyce Smith, 57, a Northeast Philadelphia resident and CEED student.
Smith, a housewife, said her husband receives disability, and if he passes, she will have no way to support herself.
“I worked so hard for this and if I don’t keep working I will lose everything,” she said. “What are we supposed to do about getting jobs without a GED?”
“I’m very upset but this is gonna make me push even harder,” said Kirk Simmons, another student. “I’m not gonna give up. It’s not gonna happen. I got a plan. When I get my GED, I’m gonna be a counselor. I’m not giving up my dream.”
“We’re making a commitment to you,” said Davis. She told students they need to join together, sign petitions and let elected officials know “we’re not going down without a fight… This is an attack on the poor. It’s wrong and we’re not going to stand for it.”
Johnson and Davis encouraged students to sign an online petition, and mail letters to elected officials.
“When you go out of here today start to investigate other programs,” said Johnson. “Ask ‘are you a program that can help me as an adult learner? Can you give me the services I need to remain a successful adult learner?’ … Be the captain of your own ship.”
Last year, more than 250 students enrolled in CEED’s Adult Literacy, English as a Second Language and General Educational Development (GED) courses. The program received about $374,000 in funding through the state Department of Education’s Adult Basic and Literacy Education bureau.
Those interested in signing an e-petition can visit www.LutheranSettlement.org or call 215-426-0581 for more information.••