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Will funding for English classes run out?

Community leaders in Richmond Hill are concerned that funding for English as a Second Language (ESL) programs may be sparse in Fiscal Year (FY) 2008. While nothing has been finalized yet, some ESL advocates fear that immigrants seeking to learn English will be left with few options.
“The mayor talks about this huge surplus the city has,” said Anthony Miranda, Executive Director of Elohim Community Development, 87-47 111th Street in Richmond Hill, “but all indication is that no money is being set aside for ESL.”
Elohim, like many community centers, receives funding through the Office of Adult and Continuing Education, a branch of the state Department of Education (DOE). According to Miranda, DOE plans to reduce funding for ESL programs in FY 2008, which begins July 1.
“There seems to be more money available for the children,” said Miranda, “but they’re cutting back a bit for adults.”
Miranda said he fears that next school year, Elohim will be forced to discontinue its ESL program. Most public schools, he explained, have already stopped allocating funds for ESL. That, coupled with the ever-growing influx of immigrants, presents a problem to the community.
“Everyone talks about the immigrants, and what we should do about them,” said Miranda. “That’s not the issue. The issue is, while they’re here, what do we do with them? It’s a shame what’s going on. They’re playing politics.”
At the nearby Richmond Hill Block Association (RHBA), a similar problem has arisen. RHBA offered a free six-month ESL program, slated to end June 30, which was funded by a grant from City Councilmember Dennis Gallagher. Whether the new city budget will allow room for another grant in the coming fiscal year remains to be seen.
“We’re hoping, because the program has been successful—and we’ve actually had a few students obtain their U.S. citizenship after attending our classes—that there’s room in the budget for next year,” said Wendy Bowne, Vice President of RHBA. “But we don’t know. Councilmember Gallagher can’t tell us anything for certain right now.”
Patricia Arias-Toro, 36, who emigrated to the United States from Mexico in 1992, was one of the students who gained her citizenship after taking the ESL class at RHBA.
“The class made me want to become a citizen, because I learned about the history of this country and liked it,” said Arias-Toro. “I’d like to take more class—I really need it. A lot of the other ESL programs are too expensive.”
Gallagher said he expects funding to continue next year.
“It’s been a very successful program, so I expect funding will be there,” said Gallagher. “New York City spends millions of dollars each year writing brochures in all different languages, but not enough on actually teaching people English.”
“To be able to receive a job application and know how to fill it in is important,” said Miranda. “Those are the types of things we take for granted, but for an individual who doesn’t know the language, it’s very hard for them.”

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