Education advocates plead for more funding support

David Taber

State budget outlook not good

Local advocates adult education and others, supporting early, and special education programs and other academic interests, made their way to English High School Dec. 23 to make cases for continued state funding to state Secretary of Education Paul Reville.

About 50 people made it out to the late afternoon event held two days before Christmas.

Locally, two representatives from the Jamaica Plain Adult Learning Program (JP ALP)—a program of Jamaica Plain Community Centers, which offers English as a Second Language and GED classes—made pitches for funding support.

The state’s fiscal picture does not look great, Reville said in comments to the audience and to the Gazette after the hearing. Last year, a $2 billion hole in the budget was largely filled by federal stimulus funds, but that funding is not available this year. It appears that the state is facing a $1.5 billion hole for fiscal year 2012, he said.

Speaking to the Gazette, Reville likened the current state budget picture to 2008, when Governor Deval Patrick made $1 billion in discretionary cuts to the state budget to offset a projected budget shortfall, acting under the authority of Section 9C of Chapter 29 of the Massachusetts General Laws.

“There were no 9C cuts this year, but we are looking at cuts of that magnitude as we go forward,” Reville told the Gazette.

Lisa Beatman, head of JP ALP told the Gazette that, statewide, adult basic education took a 10 percent cut in 2008, down from $33 million to $28 million that year, and has never recovered.

JP ALP—run out of English High School— gets just under half of its funding, about $300,000, from the state. The program has managed to avoid cutting any of its 10 English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) or three adult basic education classes, despite dealing with cuts that about mirror the statewide cut, Beatman said.

“We are doing the best we can with increasingly limited resources,” Beatman said.

The lack or resources is particularly frustrating when it comes to ESOL classes, she said. JP ALP’s ESOL program has a 400-person wait list.

“Lower-level people who need classes have it worst. There is a two-year wait,” she said.

Testifying at the hearing, JP ALP instructor Franklin Peralta said that many of the ESOL students who go through the program are “lawyers, engineers and teachers ready to put their skills to use, who just need to develop language skills.” Others are “great, hardworking people, eager to learn and to work.

“We need to continue to grow,” Peralta said.

In her testimony at the hearing and in comments to the Gazette, Beatman noted that adult education, even with limited resource allocations, is delivering significant bang for its public bucks. Adult education teachers do not get pensions, 401ks or health insurance, and, increasingly, they work less than full time—on paper if not in fact.

“We are very bare-bones, and yet we do it. We serve thousands of people and graduate thousands of people,” she said.

Boosters for state funding for other education initiatives also made impassioned pleas to Reville at the hearing.

Advocates for early education programs made arguments similar to Beatman’s about their efforts to maximize impact by cutting back on administrative and personnel costs.

Jen Kelleher, a staffer with the the statewide Massachusetts YouthBuild Coalition—a non-profit that teaches high school students construction-trade skills and provides them with academic support— said that reinstating $200,000 that was cut from that programs state funding could save some of the 13 YouthBuild programs across the state from closure. She asked for the program’s state funding to be raised from $1.3 million to $1.5 million.

Last year, 2,000 students applied to YouthBuild programs throughout the state, and 85 percent were turned away, Kelleher said.

Following the hearing, Reville told the Gazette that he had not heard anything that surprised him in particular.

”We have heard from most of these constituents,” he said, and the state recognizes that “these programs are really important.”

Speaking to the Gazette, Beatman said the education secretary might have heard more from constituents if the hearing had not been held days before Christmas. The time was “inconvenient” for many, she said.

Directly following the hearing, speaking to Reville, Peralta offered a more positive assessment. The hearing was “a real exercise in democracy,” he said, “In many countries in Latin America there is a real disconnect between” between government officials and constituents, he said.

“US democracy is great in that sense,” Peralta said.

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