Hundreds Protest Federal Budget Cuts in Adult Literacy Programs
Ohanian Comment: We already knew that funding for NCLB comes from the elimination of programs helping poor people. Here is an upclose look at some people who are hurt by federal policy. Reliable data and a results-driven budget become Orwellian phrases for federal enforcement of corporate ideology. These phrases should enter the language as euphemisms for budget cuts to programs that serve the poor.
They stood in Union Square yesterday in a sea of signs and banners - the nurse from Ecuador, the security guard from Togo, the Bronx-born psychology student who did not earn her high school equivalency degree until age 26.
Rallying in front of the statue of George Washington, they and hundreds like them were protesting government budget cuts in adult literacy programs that have helped to feed their families, they said, by nurturing their dreams.
"I am nurse in my country - I need learn English," Cecilia Jaramillio, 35, said haltingly as she clutched one end of a banner identifying Make the Road by Walking, a Brooklyn-based advocacy and educational organization. Her teachers there say that English classes can bridge the gap between her 12 years of nursing experience in Ecuador and the city's 14,000 nursing vacancies.
But the Bush administration's proposed budget would cut more than two of every three dollars from the city's network of adult literacy and work force development programs supporting such English classes for immigrants and high school equivalency degree classes for adults, according to Ira Yankwitt, director of the New York City Regional Adult Education Network. He calculated that the convergence of federal and state cuts would shrink the city's resources for such instruction to $8.3 million from $26 million.
Susan Aspey, press secretary for the federal Department of Education in Washington, defended the cuts, saying of the programs being eliminated, "We don't have reliable data that shows that they work."
"The president has proposed savings in fiscal '06,'" she added. "It's a results-driven budget."
To Folly Ekoue in Union Square, holding the other end of the long banner that Ms. Jaramillio was grasping, the results of eight months of English classes at United Bronx Parents - one of the many agencies affected by the budget cuts - seem unmistakable and measurable.
"When I came in this country, in November 2003, I couldn't even say my name," said Mr. Ekoue, 30, who is from Togo in West Africa. "Now I can write."
In addition to the pride of having had a letter published in a local newspaper, he enjoys the profit of a bigger paycheck. "I was working in a pizza store, but since my English is improving, I got a better job, security officer," he said. "Nine dollars an hour, instead of $5.30."
Even without the budget cuts, unmet demand from immigrants like Ms. Jaramillio and Mr. Ekoue is huge and growing, according to city demographers and literacy experts. A recent city planning report found that the number of New York adults with a problem speaking English had increased by 30 percent between 1990 and 2000, to more than 1.5 million throughout the city, or more than one in four adult New Yorkers. Yet only around 31,000 slots were available in language classes last year.
Then there are native-born New Yorkers, like Jeniffer Herrera, who seek a second chance to earn a high school diploma. Standing behind the same banner, Ms. Herrera, 29, displayed the General Educational Development diploma she earned three years ago through a course at Lehman College in the Bronx, where she now takes graduate courses in psychology.
"I will be Dr. Herrera in two years!" she declared fiercely, showing off an academic achievement award presented to her last year by Peter Jennings. "I have a brother who's in Iraq fighting, and what is he really fighting for? If they cut these education programs, we are not going to be able to supersede poverty. Where are we going to go, to McDonald's?"
Beside her, Ms. Jaramillio, the nurse and mother of two sons, mustered her three months' worth of English lessons. "I need more English class," she said. "No cuts, no more war. More class."
Margie McHugh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, an advocacy organization and umbrella group, called on state and city officials to do more. "Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg raised millions of dollars for President Bush's re-election campaign," she said. "They should stand up for New York and demand that these cuts be restored."
New York Times
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES