There is much to celebrate these days. Economic indicators across the country are starting to improve. Joblessness is decreasing, corporate America continues to document record profits, and commercial sales are increasing.
Yet we are not out of the woods. Baltimore's unemployment leads the state at 7.9 percent. The poverty rate stands at 22.9 percent. Per capita income is only $21,562. And too many adults still have significant educational needs at a time when city funding through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) is being reduced for adult literacy and other programs.
Maryland's Workforce Creation and Adult Education Transition Council stated in 2009 "Many Marylanders do not have the necessary skills to compete in today's economy or the knowledge to allow them to realize their full potential." This is compounded by job-training programs that do not offer on-site literacy services. How do we serve the 100,000 Baltimore City residents who read at or below the 4th grade level?
That's where we come in. As leading providers of adult education services in Baltimore, we know that education pays high dividends. Adult education — which includes basic reading, writing, math, and English language proficiency skill development — is a successful preventive strategy that reduces government expenditures associated with intergenerational low literacy, such as unemployment, welfare, homelessness, incarceration, and poor health. Similarly, a child's opportunity for school achievement is enormously affected by the parents' education level, literacy skills, attitude toward learning, and economic stability. Recent calculations indicate that every dollar invested in adult education yields a return of $3.15.
Despite the continuing need for our services and in spite of our students' successes, the most significant resources that fund our work — federal, state and local funding — are decreasing.
In the current fiscal year, Baltimore literacy providers suffered cuts from our Maryland Adult Education and Literacy Services grants that led us to cut back services. Now the Baltimore City Department of Housing has proposed a 17 percent reduction in CDBG funding — the largest we have ever experienced at one time — without a transparent process to explain the rationale. Many other direct-service nonprofits would be similarly affected.
Compounding these challenges, President Barack Obama has recommended slashing the Community Block Grant programs altogether. This would potentially devastate thousands of development and direct-service organizations around the country in the following year and impact millions of Americans.
It's been suggested that affected organizations should direct attention to the proposed federal changes rather than focusing on the current city cuts. We cannot. These additional and unexpected funding decreases jeopardize our programs at a time when service demand is increasing. Adult education programs in Baltimore continue to operate with significant waiting lists, despite serving more than 6,800 students annually. Far too many of Baltimore's working poor seeking our services start at the lowest literacy levels and require more instructional time and resources to move toward success. Losing resources is unacceptable when they are needed more than ever.
Baltimore should not jeopardize the progress of thousands of city residents without being held accountable to those directly affected. Has the funding been redirected as the result of the housing agency's "rating and rankings" system? How do successful agencies recoup lost funds?
The process has been unclear, and we deserve some explanation. Without one, this is a short-sighted approach to improving Maryland's workforce and Maryland's economy.
Shirley Bigley LaMotte, Todd Elliott, Mark Pettis and Sonia Socha, Baltimore
The writers are, respectively, executive director of Baltimore Reads; deputy director of the Greater Homewood Community Corporation; executive director of Learning Is For Tomorrow; and executive director of the South Baltimore Learning Center.