English Students Protest Adult Education Cuts

More than 300 students of English-language programs protested on Tuesday at the City Hall stairs. (Photo by Cristina Loboguerrero via El Diario)

More than 300 students of English-language programs protested on Tuesday at the City Hall steps. (Photo by Cristina Loboguerrero via El Diario)

If Saul Vásquez’s English classes are reduced, it would enormously affect his life, both professionally and personally. “For me, it would be a disaster,” said the immigrant who arrived from El Salvador three years ago and now takes free English classes four times per week at the nonprofit organization SoBro.

“[The classes are] my only chance to be able to prepare myself to search for a better-paid job and send more money to my family back home,” said the young man, who works as an assistant at a restaurant.

Vásquez joined more than 300 students who protested this Tuesday at the City Hall steps, demanding that the mayor and the City Council restore funds for Adult Language Learning programs.

In his budget plan, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed $4.7 million in cuts for those programs that are assigned to grassroots community organizations. That would affect at least 4,100 students who receive free classes in such programs as English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), Adult Basic Education (ABE) and High School Equivalency (HSE).

The new fiscal year will start on July 1, so if those funds are not restored, classes will be suspended after June 30.

Mauricio Collado, an English teacher at SoBro, which offers classes to more than 300 students from around the world, said that the cuts will affect a large community that is only seeking to learn the language in order to integrate socially and economically.

“My students go to class because they need an open door to keep growing, but the only opportunity that they have is closing. If the classes are cut, most of them will not be able to afford private lessons,” he said.

Council member Carlos Menchaca, chair of the Council’s Committee on Immigration, joined the protest and commended the struggle of the working people to give priority to adult learning programs. “We need to see that the mayor’s budget is with us, and the way to show that is by giving funds for adult education.”

Kerwin Rivera, vice president of SoBro, said that both his organization and others that receive funds would see their classes reduced by 75 percent. “It would be a severe blow for the students and their families.”

The job prospects of Mexican immigrant Estela Tepale depend heavily on whether she will be able to keep attending a high school equivalency course at the organization Make the Road New York: “For me it is important because I want to find a better job to raise my kids, but for many of my classmates it’s important because they want to go to college,” she said.

For his part, Council member Daniel Dromm, chair of theCommittee on Education, said that “1.7 million New Yorkers do not have a high school equivalency or are not proficient in English, so giving them additional support would help them find better job opportunities, resulting in a better impact for their and their families’ financial health.”

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