State budgets continue to get slashed nationwide, especially for adult education, leaving more Hispanics with decreased opportunities for taking English as a second language (ESL) classes.
“That’s a problem you’re seeing in states like California that are so cash-strapped in all types of public education,” Migration Policy Institute Policy Analyst Sarah Hooker told VOXXI. “There is absolutely an undeniable acceptance to the fact that there’s public support for K-12 education, public support for post-secondary education and community colleges, and universities. Really, who is losing out the most in these budget situations are adult learners.”
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“We can definitely point to the fact that immigrants who develop English proficiency have major wage benefits over those who don’t,” Hooker said. “Depending on the level of education, they can go from earning $15,000 to $30,000 a year for having English skills. These classes serve as an on ramp for people who then also could pursue other paths to a living wage job. English by itself may not be enough for a competitive family sustaining wage job, but it’s definitely a prerequisite.”
However, Christian Nelson, the head of adult and career education at the Oakland school district and president of the California Council for Adult Education, says 70 percent of state money that once supported adult education has been redirected to fund instruction for children.
As for federal money, the Workforce Investment Act recently decreased its funding 16 percent, with Congress appropriating $628.2 million for adult education and ESL instruction in 2010 and $606.3 million in 2012.
In the wake of the cuts, immigrants seeking English instruction have been forced to seek non-public fund supported community based organizations. The result is long waiting lists for classes that may not provide the same quality offered at high schools that presented evening instruction.
“States are not able to meet a fraction of the need right now,” Hooker said. “There is definitely a need for additional federal resources. It’s the same thing with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama Administration’s temporary two-year policy for youth to adjust their status that went into effect this August. Under that policy, you have to have a GED or high school diploma or be currently enrolled in school. A lot of people who don’t have a GED or high school diplomas try to enroll in a GED or adult ed class and there are waiting lists. They’re being stopped at the door for that reason. So it’s a huge capacity challenge.”
Invariably the topic of ESL classes won’t be going away anytime soon.
In fact, as talks heat up regarding anticipated immigration reform, the grease used to accomplish such a monumental task will indeed be English adult instruction on a national level.
This is similar to the previous large immigration overhaul in 1986 when $4 billion was earmarked towards states providing English classes. However, Hooker said whatever reform does happen, plenty of questions remain.
“English classes would likely be an element of any major reform bill,” Hooker said. “The one question would be at what point would someone have to demonstrate English proficiency? Is it going to be at the point of adjusting to a temporary legal status or applying for citizenship or some intermediate point along that pathway?”