By Jeremy Walsh
English was not their first language, but more than 200 immigrants learning the language in programs taught in Queens gathered in Jackson Heights to speak their mind about major potential cuts in their funding as Albany trims its budget.
Gov. David Paterson included $2.1 million in cuts from English as a Second Language and adult literacy programs in his executive budget proposal as part of his efforts to close a $15 billion budget gap for the upcoming fiscal year.
Uruguayan immigrant Armando DeLiotte, 69, has been taking classes at the Jackson Heightsâˆ’based organization New Immigrant Community Empowerment for a year. He is now a salesman for a water purifier company, a position he credited his language skills for landing.
“My English was very, very bad,” he said. “Now it’s OK. Now I understand my son and I can help my grandson with school.”
Elmhurst resident Gompo Tsanwang, 22, came from Tibet looking for better career opportunities. He said the program has made him consider becoming an English teacher himself.
“We can get a job and a job is important to all students,” he said. “I want an educated job, not just to work with my hands.”
Though the students showed their support by holding up signs, it was the teachers and organizers who worried about the impact of the proposed budget cuts.
“Cuts in Adult Literacy funding would reduce Make the Road New York’s class size by almost 25 percent,” said Adult Literacy Director Julie Quinton. “Almost 300 students would be out on the streets.”
K.C. Williams, a coordinator at Queens Community House, said her organization would have to reduce the number of students it serves each year substantially from the 3,000 it currently teaches.
“Queens is the borough with the highest concentration of recent immigrants,” she said. “If these classes get cut, they’re going to lose these opportunities. When people don’t speak English, they are isolated. They don’t know what’s going on in their children’s school.”
She said there has been some talk of federal stimulus money being used to bolster ESL programs as part of a basic education, but noted some of those proposed as part of the stimulus package require fifthâˆ’grade reading skills.
Many program organizers pushed a progressive tax on the rich as the possible solution to the problem. On Monday, the New York Post reported that Paterson and Democrats in the state Legislature were planning a twoâˆ’year income tax hike on those making more than $500,000 a year.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by eâˆ’mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718âˆ’229âˆ’0300, Ext. 154.