By Mark Hallum
Immigrants rallied at the steps of Queens Borough Hall Tuesday to call on the de Blasio administration to continue funding adult learning programs in the city budget, due for passage in June.
Organized by the New York City Coalition for Adult Literacy, more than 100 people showed their support for the city to reserve $12 million for the programs and classes they claim are critical to the success of immigrants with varying degrees of education across the city.
“Currently New York has about 2.2 million adults who are lacking English proficiency or a high school diploma, which is about a third of the work force,” Kevin Douglas from United Neighborhood Houses, the leading organization in the coalition, said. “It’s a pretty significant portion of people who don’t have the skills they need to really survive and thrive in our economy.”
Douglas said the city has included $12 million for these programs in the budget for the past two years, but it was not included in the preliminary budget released in February, and this will be the second year in a row the coalition will have to rally for attention to their cause.
“Adult literacy classes are especially important to new immigrants who rely on these services to learn English speaking, reading and writing,” Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) said. “We are an immigrant city, and we must provide the necessary support to ensure our newest New Yorkers are fully equipped to enter the work force.”
Marlyn Suarez, an English as a second language teacher at LaGuardia Community College, gave an example of the position many of her students are in as new immigrants.
“Ken was an amazing student, he had a Ph.D in math and science, he presented at numerous international conferences and was a tenured professor at his previous university,” Suarez said. “In response to my question, ‘What animal best represents you?’ he said, ‘Back at home I feel like a tiger, but in New York I feel like nothing but a bug.’ I’m sure he is not the only student who feels this way and which is why we are here advocating for the mayor to baseline funding for adult literacy.”
Make the Road New York, an organization which advocates for immigrant rights and legislation, is one of the groups involved in the coalition.
“More than ever, New York City needs to fully fund its adult literacy programs to safeguard and expand opportunity for immigrant communities,” Make the Road Co-executive Director Javier Valdes said. “The literacy and basic skills that participants gain through these programs are critical to employment opportunities and economic mobility, school performance, health and community safety. It’s critical that New York City step up for these vital services. Our centers in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island depend on this funding to drive the work we do.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall