A timely column from the Jersey Journal by Joan Quigley, the president and CEO of the North Hudson Community Action Corp. in Union City and a former State Assemblywoman from Jersey City.
The only reason I attended the graduation was that a friend involved in arranging the ceremony begged me to come see the outcome. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have spent an entire evening watching perfect strangers get high school diplomas.
But that night made me an advocate for adult education, something I’d barely thought about earlier.
The room in the North Bergen campus of Hudson County Schools of Technology was crowded with families of all sizes, most wearing their best clothes and clutching bouquets and cellphone cameras.
To the traditional strains of “Pomp and Circumstance,” the cap-and-gowned graduates processed to the front rows of the narrow auditorium. Then the usual speeches began – the principal, the guidance counselor, a few politicians. The next speeches, however, were far from usual.
Many graduates spoke. They talked about their personal struggles to become high school graduates and described what getting a real diploma meant to them. They were all ages, from the 19-year-old woman with two kids to the 70-ish man who could barely talk while gulping back sobs. Many said they were the first ones in their families to finish high school, while others said after struggling to get their kids through college it was their time for a diploma. Some looked forward to better jobs.
Most had grappled with language difficulties, job losses, physical handicaps, illnesses, and burdensome family obligations.
All had had financial difficulties. All saw their diplomas as personal triumphs and new beginnings.
The tears in my eyes came not only from marveling at their determination and sharing their pride but also from knowing another cut to adult ed funding was looming in the next state budget.
Since 2003 there’d been less money each year for adult classes. Although education aid had included many separate line items, that year Gov. Corzine consolidated and distributed funding in lump sums to school districts to allocate as they chose.
Since the entire pot of education money was shrinking, many county and local boards of education decided adult ed wasn’t a priority. The state constitution required a thorough and efficient education only for youngsters. Although the state also supported colleges, adults without high school diplomas or GEDs were simply out of luck. Only a few private schools offered adult education at a pre-high-school level, and those had high tuitions and inflexible hours.
In 2003, there were 49 public school adult ed programs with more than 13,000 students, but by 2008 there were only 36 programs with about 8,000 students. Prodded by the Hudson delegation in 2009 and 2010, Democrats inserted an additional $10 million into the budget specifically for adult ed programs, but in mid-2010 Gov. Christie yanked that funding.
By the start of the next school year there were only 16 programs enrolling 2,200 students.
Fortunately, Hudson County, along with Bayonne and Union City, kept their programs open and were allowed to charge students minimal tuition of $150 a semester. Elsewhere, however, programs died off.
Today, there are only 13 programs with 1,545 students. Fewer than a hundred attend in Bayonne and Union City, about 200 in the county school.
Last month, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) introduced a package of eight bills to support and improve career education. One of them, A-3341, would give school districts $1,500 per pupil enrolled in an approved adult high school program, post-graduate program, or post secondary program offered by a county vocational school district. If enacted, the support will begin in the 2015-16 school year. In subsequent years, the support would be adjusted according to the Consumer Price Index.
I sure hope it passes.