When doing good isn't enough




So, here's a fun story: State funding eliminated for local services (July 30, 2011 Williamsport Sun-Gazette).

It seems that a Pennsylvania one-on-one adult literacy program that expanded to include GED prep, workplace essential skills and ESL programming, as well as a full-component family literacy program - a place that "served almost 900 families and 5,000 adults since 1990" - is closing. Its funding has gone elsewhere, including to a research institute, the Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy at Penn State University.

The Learning Center is attached to the James V. Brown Library, which appears to be a joint city-state supported library. The funding in question came from Pennsylvania's Department of Education. Over the past several years, apparently, the amount of funding declined until, this year, the Dept. decided there wasn't enough funds for the program to remain viable - and so, the funds went elsewhere.

Let me say that again. The State withdrew funds because the program had too small a budget to be viable, and the program had a small budget because, over the past several years, the State has been giving less and less money. From the article:

Three years ago, The Learning Center's funding was cut by 15 percent. Last year, funding was cut by 18 percent. This year, the program's funding was supposed to be cut by another 18 percent. Since funding became so low, the education department decided to look at consolidation.

The university, of course, has all sorts of money, and so that's where the State decided to spend at least some of its adult and family literacy monies.

Linda Herr, the Learning Center coordinator, questioned literacy funding going to a university: "They never provided direct services to adult students. They never taught classes. They never volunteered. They're a research program." At the Learning Center, however, three ESL learners "became citizens" and 57 adult learners earned their GEDs, in the 2010-11 grant year alone. The video above gives a good overview of their approach and commitment.

You know, I could work in that place, er, except... they're closing and... *awkward*.

Anyway, success stories and excellence are all good and fine, but they pale beside the simple power of social capital. ( Certainly, here at home, it's been hard to compete with the university for public and charitable funds and support.)

Admittedly, neither Williamsport's Ms. Herr, nor Williamsport Sun-Gazette reporter Alyssa Murphy, are disinterested parties: "Our funding went to Centre County, 80 miles away," Herr is quoted as saying.

But what makes it their funds?

The article also says, "The state Department of Education instead provided the money to literacy programs in Northumberland County and State College." I dunno. Maybe Northumberland Country and/or Centre County have more pressing needs. The Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy at The Pennsylvania State University does seem to have one of those vague, familiarly useless mission statements:
To advance the field of literacy through collaborative research, development, outreach, and leadership to improve practice, expanding access to high quality education and enriching the lives of individuals and families.

But maybe State College does more useful things with it's money? I dunno.

And I don't care enough to find out.

I just note the familiar tenor of exasperation that doing a really good job - doing everything you promised you'd do, and cheaply - isn't enough to secure political and financial support.

It ain't 1980 anymore. Nor even 1970. It's a lot more like 1911 - when social class mattered more than performance, education was often seen as a perk, and there were as-yet unseen national financial and military disasters lurking just around the next corner.

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