Funding cuts to silence AmeriCorps program that helps immigrants learn English
Some 16 local programs that teach adult literacy classes are losing federal funding that helped pay for teachers and volunteers.
Seattle Times staff reporter
More than a dozen programs in King County that teach basic English to adults could lose teachers because of recent cuts in federal funding.
The loss could affect as many as an estimated 4,000 adults taught by AmeriCorps members at sites ranging from St. James Cathedral and the King County Jail to Seattle Central Community College and the Metrocenter YMCA downtown.
A national service organization started in 1994, AmeriCorps relies on grants from an organization called the Corporation for National and Community Service, which partners with the federal government to pay stipends to volunteers who perform community service.
In 2009, Congress actually tripled funding for volunteer programs organized by the corporation, but this year, the corporation shifted its priorities to work done with homeless people, veterans and the elderly. It did not renew grants for some long-standing programs, including Literacy*AmeriCorps, a national wing of AmeriCorps.
The literacy program operated offices in seven cities, including Seattle, which used the annual grant to fund stipends of $12,100 each for AmeriCorps volunteers, who are referred to as members.
In Seattle, 25 AmeriCorps members taught basic English to adults and each year organized 700 unpaid volunteers to help. Together the AmeriCorps members and volunteers worked with 16 programs in King County.
"It's really hard to believe it's something that's going away," said Leeta Scott. She has worked six years as the director of Literacy*AmeriCorps' Seattle office and will lose her job when the grant ends July 31 along with the volunteers she placed in community programs.
"What happens to us?" asked Fucana Aludar, an immigrant from the Philippines and a student at a literacy program offered at St. James Cathedral on First Hill. She gestured to her AmeriCorps English teacher and said, "What happens to them?"
Sitting around a table Friday, she and four others from the Philippines, Venezuela and Mexico talked about the importance of their ESL class. Moments before, they were speaking in English about their childhoods with an AmeriCorps instructor and three volunteer tutors.
"When other people don't understand you, you lose your confidence," said student Homero Bracho, from Venezuela.
Students said they can't do anything if they don't know the language or understand American cultural expectations.
It's difficult to do job interviews, tell the difference between utility bills and sales letters, or speak with doctors and nurses, they said.
Chris Koehler, ESL director at St. James, worries that people who can't find classes because they are limited by transportation, income and health barriers are those most likely to be hurt by the loss of Literacy*AmeriCorps.
He said the St. James program will lose half of its 100 seats. Other programs say they expect to keep the same number of seats open, but will have to sacrifice some flexibility in scheduling. All are scrambling to find a solution before July 31.
The King County Correctional Facility has relied on AmeriCorps for its women's education programs since Seattle Central Community College decided last year to focus its work in the jail on just men.
The college has been talking with the jail about the possibility of taking over women's education again for the same amount the jail paid to have AmeriCorps workers manage and teach the classes, said David Gourd, interim dean for basic and transitional studies.
Jayme Fraser: 206-464-2201 or email@example.com. On Twitter: @jaymekfraser