United Neighborhood Houses Fight for Funding for Adult Literacy Education

February 9, 2018

United Neighborhood Houses, a collection of settlement houses and community centers throughout the five boroughs, has been working in Albany this past week to restore and increase funding for four key issues– the Settlement House Program, Naturally Occuring Retirement Communities (NORCs), Adult Literacy Education (ALE), and the Non-Profit Sector.

It had been proposed that funding for ALE would be cut from $7.3m to $6.3m, cutting one million dollars from the program. The New York City Coalition for Adult Literacy and their Assembly and Senate champions are proposing raising that amount to $15.3m – restoring the $1m that had been cut and adding $8m in additional funding, which will fill in a gap in funding created by a change in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. NYCCAL estimates that expanding ALE will allow up to 16,000 people in New York State to be served – the number of students served currently is 5,700.

Even before the proposed cut to funding, English language education in New York State is lagging behind what’s needed. According to nycfuture.org, “…the number of state-funded ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages] seats has declined by 32 percent over the last nine years, from approximately 86,000 seats in 2005 to 59,000 in 2013.” That’s because the cost per student has risen, but state funding has not increased to match.

As a nonprofit settlement house hosting English and Citizenship classes, and as a member of the New York City Coalition for Adult Literacy, AAFSC is directly impacted by these issues. Four days a week, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m, both of our classrooms and our small kitchen are occupied by English classes. While we accept all learners, of all levels we try to focus on women who may not have been able to access education before, and who continue to struggle in their new environments.

Our English classes enable women to navigate their new homes and jobs in a comfortable environment – most ESL classes are mixed-gender, something which alienates conservative Muslim women. Two of our weekly English classes are women-only, providing a comfortable, safe learning environment. On Friday mornings we host citizenship classes, where immigrants can prepare for their citizenship tests. Volunteers quiz students on common questions on the citizenship test, teach them about U.S. history and civics, and conduct mock interviews. In January alone, 3 of our students passed their citizenship tests!

Adult Literacy Education is being championed by Assemblymembers Ron Kim and Pat Fahy (of Queens and Albany Counties, respectively), and Senator Jose Peralta of Queens. Settlement houses all over New York have been tweeting words of thanks to their representatives using the hashtag #LiteracyLiftsNY.

English and civics classes provided by the AAFSC are crucial to new immigrants – learning English allows them to navigate a new environment, find jobs, and pursue further training and education to find better and higher-paying jobs, making life better for themselves and their families.

If you support the AAFSC and everything we do and want to show support for the representatives who have supported us, you can tweet them @SenatorPeralta, @PatriciaFahy109, and @rontkim.