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Editorial: Adult education/Support doesn't match need

March 15, 2004

STAR TRIBUNE EDITORIAL  3/15/04

Minnesota's recreation centers, schools and other community-based places where adults get a second chance at learning are bustling with activity. They are the places where new English-language learners, late-blooming young adults or middle-aged dropouts can pick up the skills they need in an understanding, welcoming atmosphere.

Adult basic education (ABE) programs are bursting at the seams with eager learners. Yet while demand is clearly growing, state support for them is moving in the other direction.

Two years ago, the state spent about $35 million on ABE; this year it is down to about $33 million as a result of state budget cuts. Moreover, those reductions come at a time when just over 80,000 Minnesotans use ABE services -- double the number of participants in 1995. Nearly half are immigrants yearning to learn English and become citizens; the rest are people who finally want to earn that high school diploma or GED or master the basic skills they need to get a better job.

This is no time to reduce investment in helping state residents become more self-sufficient.

As with K-12 education, the percentage cut to adult programs was not large compared with the hits taken by some other state agencies. And funding had grown fairly steadily until last year. Yet for a program already operating on a shoestring, the cuts translated into staff layoffs, decreased hours, larger class sizes and more students turned away.

Together Minneapolis and St. Paul ABE programs, for example, serve about 30,000 people and have several thousand on waiting lists. Because enrollees tend to be lower-income, cuts in other social service areas affect their ability to go to class. Centers around the state report that participants drop out because they lost child care or transportation subsidies under health and human service cuts.

These programs deserve expanded support because they ultimately benefit all of society in multiple ways. National estimates show adult education is an economic development tool; for every dollar spent on adult education, $5 to $7 is saved or pumped into the economy later on.

People who speak English well and have high school degrees are more employable, earn more and pay more in taxes, rather than being a constant drain on government resources. Getting basic education also makes students eligible to move on to higher learning and even stronger financial futures for their families.

And when parents become more literate, they are better able to teach their own children. A recent Minnesota school readiness survey of entering kindergartners showed that those least prepared for school tend to come from lower-income, poorly educated families. When adult literacy improves, so does the academic achievement of their children; parents with strong reading and writing skills are better able to help their daughters and sons with homework and get involved with the schools.

Funding for ABE is based on the hours spent teaching, not the numbers of students, so a little goes a long way. Still, the government commitment is not meeting the growing need. Both the state and federal government should keep pace and expand support for such an obvious, worthy return on investment.


Lyon County Government Center    607 W. Main St.    Marshall, MN 56258    (507) 537-7046



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