Coalition Battles Gov's Cuts

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In a city and state where communication is often marred by fractious opposition and dueling political factions, an unlikely coalition has formed to implore the state to preserve funding for English-language classes designed for New York's immigrant population.

Leaders from the worlds of business, workforce development, and language instruction have allied with immigrant advocates for a common cause—and against Gov. Paterson's proposed cuts to already lean language-learning funding.

“The bottom line is that increasing English proficiency in the workforce will improve business,” says Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce head and coalition member Carl Hum. In addition, the group offers budget-neutral reform strategies to strengthen future language-learning funding.

In 12 of 15 New York counties, growth in immigrant communities has outpaced overall community growth. Today, 4.2 million New Yorkers were born in another country, including 1.8 million adults with limited English proficiency. In New York City, immigrants count for 37.5 percent of the city's residents. “It's the highest number of immigrants since World War I,” said Hum, who adds: “Our responsibility is to integrate immigrants into the workforce,” and English-language skills are critical.

Despite significant increases in immigrant populations since 2000, the state only provides for 87,000 seats in state-administered English classes. That number represents only 5 percent of the population that could benefit from English classes, according to a 2006 report from the Center for an Urban Future and the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy.

The main source of money for English classes, the Employment Preparation Education (EPE) funding stream, has been capped since 1996. Another, smaller tributary, Adult Literacy Education, has been funded at the same level, in constant dollars, since 1988. Even as the need for language skills is rising, given the steadily increasing numbers who migrate to New York City and State, funding is flat. And now, even that flat funding is threatened by $2.6 million in cuts proposed in Gov. Paterson's budget.