Deficit threatens adult ed
By Robbie Sherwood and Maggie Galehouse
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 24, 2003
Imelda Aceves dreams of improving her English skills enough to land an office
job far from the wrenching work at the laundry where she washes 200 loads of
clothes a day.
James Woodruff is good with his hands, but poor reading skills have kept the
talented mechanic and repairman in menial jobs for decades.
Martha Schulte, a former teenage mother and high school dropout, goes to sleep
each night in a homeless shelter for women. She hopes one day soon to get a job,
any job, to support herself and her 11-year-old daughter.
Their backgrounds differ immensely, but all three are banking on the same ticket
to an improved life: the general equivalency diploma they are earning at
Literacy Volunteers of Maricopa County.
But the state and federal money that pays for their free instruction could
disappear under the crushing weight of Arizona's $1.3 billion budget deficit.
Republican lawmakers trying to tackle the problem want to eliminate the
entire$4.4 million state adult education and $1 million family literacy programs
"I've seen people here who can't read at all, and now they can help their
families and their children who are starting school," said Woodruff, 58.
"Education should be the last thing they look at to cut."
The cuts would trigger the loss of like amounts of federal funding for the
programs, ending free instruction for more than 45,000 people a year.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Bob Burns said education and family literacy made
the hit list because of the relatively few people they serve. The savings would
go to pay for $200 million in mandatory increases to the K-12 education system,
"We just can't do everything," said Burns, R-Glendale.
House Education Committee Chairwoman Linda Gray said she is aware of the help
the programs provide. However, Arizona has complied with a court order and
doubled its investment in English learner instruction in schools and can no
longer afford other programs, Gray said.
"This is one of the areas that will probably be cut," said Gray, R-Glendale.
"Why can't we have volunteers and churches providing classes for this instead of
In 2001, the most recent year with good data, 46,095 students took part in the
state's adult education program, said Lynn Reed, executive director of Literacy
Volunteers of Maricopa County.
"There's not enough volunteers in the world to help with this amount of people,"
Reed said that in 2001, nearly 27 percent of the 40,000 students in Arizona who
completed high school came from the adult education pool. The state's cost per
student was about $95.
Worth the cost
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said the program's expense
is a pittance compared with its ability to get people off welfare and into the
"This is a last-chance program for them to become fully literate in English and
to obtain a degree that will enable them to compete for jobs," Horne said.
The legislative proposal is mystifying to many educators.
"We're living in the state with the highest dropout rate in the county," said
Greg Hart, Pima College dean of adult education. "This recommendation is
horribly shortsighted, an almost tragic public policy."
Students can pay for GED classes, but it's difficult, said Mina Frestedt, an
adult education instructor.
Rio Salado College provides one of the most widespread adult education programs
in the state, offering about 150 classes in 30 locations throughout the Valley.
In 2002, when it served 12,632 people, the college received $1.6 million in
federal funding and $578,440 in state money for adult education.
On a recent night, 29 Rio Salado adult education students from around the
Valley, their families, friends and instructors braved the rain to pack a
cafeteria at the Maricopa Skills Center in Phoenix. Rio Salado was about to
honor the students with membership in the National Adult Education Honor
Society, a reward for students who make extraordinary progress and who help
Honoree Dionicio Garcia spoke no English two years ago. But after three months
in the program, he has moved into advanced English classes, despite working full
time. Donna Steverson, a single mother, improved her reading level by seven
grades in one year and is about to enter Rio Salado Community College.
Help for immigrants
The majority of honorees were immigrants, most Latino. But others hailed from
Vietnam and the Middle East, and a few were U.S.-born.
None was aware of the impending cuts to the program.
"I hope they don't cut the budget, this has meant so much to me," said honoree
Michelle Dobos of Phoenix, who dropped out of school as a youth. "I wouldn't
have been able to change careers."
With her GED, Dobos can complete the last phase of her training to become a
Before she got her GED, Gladys Martinez stayed home with her two young children
and earned occasional pocket money doing odd jobs.
She sewed children's clothes and bridesmaid's dresses, and helped with flowers
at her local church. It wasn't much, but her husband worked two jobs and they
barely managed on his salary.
But when both kids were finally in school, Martinez got serious about her
education. Although she had earned high school and secretarial degrees in her
native Guatemala, her English was shaky and she was nervous about entering the
Today, Martinez is a full-time employee at the school where she earned her
degree, earning $10 an hour as an attendance clerk and an assistant secretary.