Wednesday September 12, 2012

It’s not clear how or why the state al lowed adult education programs in Berkshire County to fall through the funding cracks, but it is clear that these pro grams become ever more important as what jobs are available demand language and educational proficiency. With funding avail able this fall for these kinds of programs, Berkshire educational organizations should be placed at the head of the line.

As Jenn Smith reported in the Sep tember 10 Eagle, the closing of the South Berkshire Educational Collabora tive this summer left a third of the county’s adult learners with no educational options. The 36-year-old SBEC slowly bled to death, with a lack of funding costing the organization its director and grant writer a year ago and finally its Adult Basic Education (ABE) program this year. According to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, there were four Berkshire applications for ABE funding but apparently none made the grade. The Northern Berkshire ABE in fact lost funding for a program transitioning those with high school equivalencies on to college or into the job market.

The demise of the SBEC was a huge loss, as it assisted those who need it most -- people with language barriers, low incomes, no transportation and little hope of advancing from jobs providing low wages at long hours. Its absence has put a strain on the Literacy Network of South Berkshire, whose volunteers help students achieve basic educational skills. Berkshire Community College, which had partnered with SBEC, and the Housatonic-based agency Multicultural BRIDGE want to fill the gap left by SBEC but they require state funding to do so.

Berkshire County is not lacking in people and organizations who will assist the county’s most vulnerable residents improve their language skills so they can succeed academically and get good jobs. These residents are willing to work hard to achieve their goals. What they all need is funding, and with Adult Career Pathways and Community Adult Learning Center funding evidently available this fall, we urge the state to do right by these programs and these residents.