As adult educators, we often focus on the benefits in terms of career and earnings that educating adults brings our students- and rightly so. However, for those students who are low-income parents, the benefits of education are also tremendous for their children.
Adult education is not, as a whole, family friendly. Children are not welcome in classes, and there is a shortage of affordable, quality daycare even if WorkFirst is subsidizing it. Simply put, if there is no place for junior, mom will not be in school. No doubt, childcare is expensive; and everyone would love free childcare. But in the case of women who have only completed 6 years or less of formal education, who don't speak English well, education offers an opportunity for them to change their futures and that of their families.
That maternal education leads to better educational outcomes for children is old news. There should be no need to repeat the research, but let's throw another study on the heap:
The program where I work, Madison Family Literacy, consistently has a waitlist of 60 students. The wait for a place in the program is often up to a year long or longer. The reason? Parents are waiting for a spot for their child in the early childhood class, so that they can attend ESL or GED class. Infants under 1 year of age can be in class with mom, sleeping, breastfeeding, playing or babbling. And we work with parents on how to cultivate a love of language and literacy from the start, and to help them understand the culture of the public schools.
When the economic crisis hit, what did the State Board cut? Family Literacy. First, they shut down programs that were not well organized, or not well performing. Fair enough. We rode on our good record and even got some donations from the closed programs. But then, they just dissolved Family Literacy altogether, reallocating the money among colleges in small amounts. Madison's budget took an $85,000 hit. Most colleges around the state simply shuttered their Family Literacy programs. In the financial storm, some closed their off campus operations, including basic skills programs in high need neighborhood; .
Fortunately, staff at TCC are committed to our program and did what was needed to hang on; we laid off most of the childcare staff and one teacher and tightened our belts. The remaining teachers offered to take a pay cut and volunteer their time (which was fortunately not necessary). And we are still here.
In tight times, the Board has chosen to focus solely on the adult students of today (granted, their mission), and funding cycles continue to operate looking for short-term gains. But we should not ignore that underfunding early childhood and parent education keeps families in poverty. Unfortunately, children take 18 years to mature into beings who can be served directly by the Community Colleges, or vote; and so we have to advocate for them. We can do that in the community colleges by advocating for the education of families, especially those with young children- because that is when the impact of education in a family is greatest.
Please join me in calling on the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges to reinstate funding for Family Literacy in Washington State. Even if they do so on a conditional basis, I am confident our students will rise to the challenges they are already tackling; to learn English and finish their secondary education in record time.