Community Feels the Impact of Budget Cuts
The atmosphere was tense inside the Lutheran Settlement House last Thursday, as students and teachers involved with the Community Education and Employment Department said goodbye to each other. The CEED program is the latest casualty of the ongoing budget cuts threatening PA’s education system. It costs about $374,000 per year to run the program, and LSH relied heavily on state funding. The funding cuts forced LSH to lay off their teachers, and forced students to find other means of education. The program ran for over 30 years and gave thousands of people the chance to earn a GED, and gain the basic literacy skills needed to succeed in today’s workforce. CEED wasn’t the only program cut. In fact, 17 literacy programs were cut city wide, leaving only six to cover a city where according to the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board, 52% of adults lack basic reading skills.
The community meeting was more of a way for CEED students to find out what is going on, and get advice from the LSH staff on how to proceed with their education. There were mixed emotions as the meeting began. LSH Interim Executive Director Kelly Davis began by addressing the students on the current status of the program. She was obviously upset, but kept her composure in front of the group of about thirty.
She spoke about a Facebook campaign and assembling a team of volunteers to get the program running again. LSH is also working with La Salle University to possibly bring in students to teach the program. Davis stuck to the facts while addressing the group, but made it clear that she was unhappy with the current situation in Harrisburg. “This attack on the poor is wrong, and we’re not going to stand for it,” said Davis.
CEED director Betty Johnson expressed similar feelings about Governor Corbett. “We have a governor in there right now who couldn’t give a crap about adult education,” said Johnson. Johnson’s tone was much more aggressive, but she made it clear to the students that LSH wouldn’t turn their back on them. “We want you to know you are teachable,” said Johnson. She promised to do everything within her power to help the students have an easy transition into different programs.
When she asked the group how they were feeling, the responses were mostly feelings of sadness and anger. Many of the students shared their concerns, and expressed their feelings about the budget cuts. “I feel like someone slapped me in the face,” said CEED student Joyce Smith as she began to choke up. Other students saw the budget cuts as another hurdle that will only make them stronger in the long run. “I am very upset, but it’s going to make me push even harder,” said CEED student Kirk Simmons.
Once Johnson concluded her remarks, the students broke into groups for a smaller learning session with their perspective teacher. I sat in with adult instructor Todd Stregiel. He taught for the CEED program for seven years, and is now unemployed due to the budget cuts. Over and over again he stressed to his students that they not give up on their educational pursuits, and he personally promised to help anyone with questions.
The meeting ended with the students receiving a packet containing information on what programs and services are still available at LSH and throughout the city. Stregiel explained the procedure on contacting city offices, and told his students how to deal with increasingly overwhelmed adult education services. The packet also contained a list of names and contact information of the people who are responsible for the budget cuts including state representatives and Governor Corbett.
It’s clear that the students and teachers at LSH are passionate about learning. Funding cuts to education have hurt students across the state, but you can’t truly appreciate the damage the Governor is doing, until you see the people directly affected. We need programs like CEED to be there for good people who want to make their lives better. As long as the trend in Harrisburg is to cut programs which help people with little money, many people will not get the chance to succeed in a culture that demands higher education.