January 21, 2011 in City

State cuts imperil dreams

Fewer funds for program that helps immigrants, refugees
By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

At the Institute for Extended Learning’s Hillyard Center, English as a second language teacher Sabina Herdrich, third from left, helps students, left to right, Vera Sergeyeva and Larisa Sergeyeva from Russia and Vira Rusavuk from Ukraine, with an assignment.
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Teacher Sabina Herdrich directs the attention of her English-as-a-second-language students to the blackboard, where she writes the words “dreams” and “goals.”

They are appropriate topics for the two-dozen adult immigrants from every part of the globe crowded into a windowless classroom at the Institute for Extended Learning’s Hillyard Center.

Dreams and goals, something they all share in abundance, may be threatened by state budget cuts.

“Goals are dreams within a period of time,” says Herdrich, who learned English in her native Philippines. She has been teaching it in Spokane for 15 years and appears never to have lost her enthusiasm for the subject.

“What are your goals?” she asks the class.

“I want to open a restaurant,” answers a young Haitian woman who came here with her mother, father and brother after last year’s earthquake devastated her native island.

“I want to be a citizen,” responds a Moldovan who came to the United States on parole immigration status, meaning she does not qualify for federal refugee benefits.

There is a Ukrainian laborer who wants to be a job supervisor, a Vietnamese seamstress who wants her own shop, and others whose dreams in Spanish or Polish or Chinese have become goals that can be realized only in English.

Last year, the Institute for Extended Learning taught English as a second language to 1,133 students, 94 percent of whom were refugees or recent immigrants.

Tuition is $25 per quarter, and financial assistance is available for eligible students.

Beginning Jan. 1, the state cut more than $1 million from the Limited English Pathways program for employment services and ESL training, said Tom Medina, of the state Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance.

It was just the latest cut to the state and federal program, which began the fiscal year with a $9.7 million budget.

Medina said the program also was hit by the governor’s across-the-board budget cuts in the fall and a loss of about $500,000 due to an overestimate of federal funding.

As a result, IEL has seen a nearly 37 percent reduction in its funding for Limited English Pathways, which began the year with a $428,000 budget, said Geri Swope, dean of instruction.

“It is going to affect the level of services we provide,” Swope said, particularly to beginning students.

Low-level English classes require more support, including teacher’s aides, and are therefore more expensive.

In recent years, Swope said, Spokane has seen an increase in refugees from Burma and Bhutan and immigrants from the Marshall Islands, many of whom are illiterate in their own language.

Such students may never have been in a classroom before and often have to repeat the lowest level English courses two or three times, Swope said.

Medina and Swope will meet later this month about what the state can do to help reimburse IEL for the cost of classes. But like other social services, funding for Limited English Pathways remains very much in doubt in the coming biennium.

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