Protesters rally against cuts to adult ed

Adult literacy students rally at the Bronx County Courthouse on April 17. Photo by Joe Hirsch

Steep cuts to the city’s adult education budget could leave a lot of Bronxites without means to better their lives. That was the message relayed by 200 some protesters who gathered on the steps of the Bronx County Courthouse on April 17 to denounce the mayor’s decision not to renew a $12 million allocation for adult education and English as a Second Language. Advocates say the shortfall will endanger programs designed to help poor New Yorkers with everything from language skills to job readiness.

Among the protesters were 25 twenty-somethings trying to earn their High School Equivalencies from The Door, a citywide nonprofit with a center on East 147th Street in Mott Haven. They fears the cuts would force The Door to eliminate programming for dozens every year who dropped out of high school or have been in jail, torpedoing their job options.

“I have one more test,” said Mikiel Davis, 22, standing on the front steps of the courthouse, between his fellow protesters’s shouts of “Education is a right, budget cuts are wrong.” Davis says he dropped out of high school due to family problems. If he were to pass his last test, he says, he would look for a job in retail.

Davis’ instructor and coach Esteban Reyes has a caseload of 30. “These cuts would hurt,” he said. “These people deserve a second chance.”

Longwood resident Betty Gonzalez, 38, came to the city from Venezuela three years ago, She works in a nutritional goods store nearby. Gonzalez was one of more than 100 students from a dozen countries from Central America to West Africa who study at the Mercy Center, an educational nonprofit in Mott Haven, who came to urge the city to restore funding. If the class at Mercy Center were cut, Gonzalez said, she would have to pay out of pocket for an English language program. She says she probably couldn’t afford it.

“We have to speak English so we can understand,” everything from doctors appointments to their childrens’ schools, said Gonzalez, who lives with her husband and is raising two children.

Judit Criado Fiuza, director of Adult Education & Workforce Development programs at Mercy Center, says that the organization serves over 800 students 1,200 to 1,500 per year, from which the protesters at the rally were just a fraction who dared come out. Others were afraid “because of ICE (the US Dept of Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and attacks on immigrants. A lot have self-deported,” she added.

Mercy Center wants the mayor to “fund and baseline these $12 million as an important investment to help immigrant and low income New Yorkers.” For the last two years, the city has provided $12 million for adult education and English language classes for adults through the Department of Youth and Community Development.

The New York City Coalition for Adult Literacy, a citywide coalition of community based organizations, City University of New York programs, library and union training programs, organized the rally.

Others find jobs, a better job, get a raise, a promotion or decide to enroll into college.

The mayor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.