BY JAMES FARRELL
Hundreds of adult learners from across the borough gathered on Tuesday in front of Queens Borough Hall for a rally with a message for Mayor Bill de Blasio: Don’t cut our programs.
The rally was organized by the New York City Coalition for Adult Literacy—a group comprising dozens of colleges, community-based organizations and advocacy groups—in response to de Blasio’s 2018 executive budget. The group said that the funding proposal features a “$12 million funding cut” to adult literacy programs that could eliminate literacy classes for more than 5,500 students, including 1,300 in Queens.
Those literacy classes include English language classes and other such programs that may help immigrant New Yorkers adjust to life in the United States.
“We are here this morning because we’re really concerned about the mayor’s budget,” said Kevin Douglas of United Neighborhood Houses, one of the coalition’s member organizations. The coalition previously hosted a rally in Brooklyn and intends to do so in every borough.
“We know that English language skills and high school diplomas are essential to success,” Douglas added.
“Many of the classes that your organizations are running depend on this funding.”
A representative for the mayor’s office denied that the $12 million in question was a “cut,” explaining that the funding was included in last year’s adopted budget in June as one-year funding on top of the baseline funding that the city typically provides. At this point in the process, according to the representative, the budget has not reinstated one-year funding. But he added that the funding was not in place this time last year either, and the mayor’s office would consider the money in further discussions.
“The city currently provides immigrant communities with essential services, including adult literacy and English language learning programs,” the representative said. “Additional need will be considered as part of the ongoing budget process.”
But rally participants were adamant that this money was a necessity to keep their programs going. They chanted, “Education is a right; budget cuts are wrong!”
“This is one of the largest rallies I have ever seen here,” said Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens). He vowed to work with the rest of the City Council to prioritize the funding during negotiations, citing support from Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) and Council Finance Chairwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (D-East Elmhurst).
“Adult literacy is not a luxury; it is not a frill,” Grodenchik added. “Queens is over half foreign born, and while many people come here speaking English, many don’t—so, we need to make sure that all those people and just about everybody who comes here who wants to learn English has the opportunity to do so.”
For one rally participant, Maria Medina, who has taken English classes at the Jacob Riis Settlement House in Long Island City’s Queensbridge Houses for the past three years, the classes are crucial for her to be able to support herself.
“If my English is improved, I can improve at my job,” she told the Queens Tribune. “I work for my family, to help my family. If I have to pay for class, it’s impossible to help my family.”
Medina’s teacher, Jennifer Pingeon, has seen firsthand how the program helps community members get jobs, continue education or communicate with their children’s teachers.
“Come and see how dedicated, how hard working and brave these students are, and I think that [de Blasio] would want to do everything he could to put his money into helping them and continuing to help them, because they’ll help us,” she said.