Emotions raw at education cuts meeting

Stu­dents and teach­ers from Luther­an Set­tle­ment House's adult edu­ca­tion pro­gram met last week in Fishtown to dis­cuss oth­er op­tions after cuts in state fund­ing nixed classes there.

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.••

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