NY: Immigrants fearful English classes could be cut

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Mon Mar 23 12:20:41 UTC 2009

Immigrants fearful English classes could be cut
By DEEPTI HAJELA – 18 hours ago

NEW YORK (AP) — Farzana Morshed arrived from Bangladesh three years
ago without any real grasp of English. Her husband had to help her
open a bank account, an interpreter was necessary when she needed
medical care and she couldn't go anywhere by herself for fear of
getting lost.
Morshed soon got the language lessons she needed through her local
library and a community-based nonprofit organization, and her English
is good enough that she can work as an interpreter at a hospital. But
other immigrants around the country are worried that they won't have
the same chance as Morshed because states are slashing budgets for
adult literacy classes — an important lifeline in immigrant

The New York state budget proposed by Gov. David Paterson would cut
three programs that contain an English education component. The
proposed budget takes funding for the three programs from nearly $13
million down to $8.6 million, a cut of about 33 percent. At the city
level, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's budget proposal doesn't include two
City Council streams of funding that support teaching English, said
Anthony Ng, deputy director of policy and advocacy at United
Neighborhood Houses. Those programs currently receive almost $7

It's an issue in other parts of the country as well, said Margie
McHugh, co-director of the National Center on Immigrant Integration
Policy at the Migration Policy Institute. She said there is great
concern in several states that budget shortfalls will cause cutbacks
in adult literacy programs, noting that it already has happened in
California. Immigrants in New York hope the money will be restored by
the time the state and city budgets are finalized. The city programs
also were not included in Bloomberg's proposals in previous years, but
they were added in during the budget process, Ng said, although not at
the funding levels advocates hoped to see.

At a rally Wednesday at a park in the Jackson Heights section of
Queens, immigrants spoke out against the funding cuts and carried
signs reading "Rebuild, Invest in Adult Literacy" and "More Education
for Parents, Better Future for Children." Among them was Gustavo
Medina, 72, wearing a top hat his granddaughter made for him that said
"We Want To Learn." The Colombian immigrant has been taking English
classes for the past year, and hopes enough funding will be there for
another year. He works cleaning restaurants at John F. Kennedy
International Airport and learning English would help him find a
better job with a better income.

And that, he said, would be good for the country, since a higher
income would have him pay more in taxes. "If I learn English, more
money for Uncle Sam," he said. Advocates say the resources for
teaching English to immigrants already are vastly outstripped by
demand. At the Shorefront YM-YWHA of Brighton Beach in Brooklyn,
several hundred students are taking English classes at any given time
and easily that many more are on a waiting list. Susan Fox, executive
director of Shorefront, said immigrants are eager to learn English,
recognizing how vital it is not only for economic advancement but to
be fully engaged in life in the United States.

"Every cut in the adult literacy world will mean fewer people helped,"
she said. In California, those cuts are a reality. Adult education
there is run through two systems, community colleges and programs
administered by school districts, said Matthew Smith, president of the
California Council of Adult Education. The recently approved state
budget cut funds for adult education run by school districts by 15
percent and an additional 5 percent cut is coming, he said. Also,
whatever funds districts do receive can be used at their discretion,
so they could decide to use the money to plug holes in their K-12
programs and not fund adult programs at all, Smith said.

"It is that bad here," he said.

Immigrants and advocates say the need for language classes is
especially important during an economic downturn. Like everyone else,
immigrants are trying to improve their skills to remain competitive in
the job market.

"At a time when immigrant communities are going to need these services
the most, they're lessening," said Deycy Avitia, coordinator of
education advocacy for the New York Immigration Coalition.

Avitia hopes federal stimulus money coming to the state will make a
difference, and said advocates would be pushing to make sure immigrant
communities were not ignored when decisions are made on how to spend
those funds.

For Morshed, her newfound knowledge of English has changed her life.
The first time she translated for a patient at her hospital, "I was
feeling like 'Oh wow, my world is so big now,'" she said.

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