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Monday, August 15, 2011

Florida's adult education fees sock it to the poor

Florida's leadership has no sort of commitment to education. Unless it lines the pockets of the private sector that is. -cpg

From the Palm Beach Post

by John Lantigua

For the first time, students in Palm Beach County School District basic adult education classes - which teach literacy, English as a second language and preparation for the GED - will have to pay tuition starting this month.

Since most students in such programs are poor, educators fear that some of the thousands of students will drop out or not even sign up, damaging not only their prospects but the educational and linguistic level of the county's workforce.

The tuition is mandated by Senate Bill 2150, passed by the Florida Legislature in May. Under the bill, any adult education program that accepts state money - and the county programs do - must charge the fees.

Residents will have to pay $30 for each of three sessions during the school year. Those who can't prove residency will be charged $90 per session.

According to the school district, 13,740 students were enrolled for the fall term and 16,444 for the winter term. No final tally was available for the summer term.

The classes sponsored by the district operate at 24 schools, the Adult Education Center in West Palm Beach and 15 satellite sites around the county.

The entire $17.8 million budget for the adult education programs comes from the state in "workforce development" funds, so the district has no choice but to charge the tuition, said Shirley Knox, the district's budget director.

Christina Graffeo, planner for the Adult and Community Education programs, said the county had been preparing since the law was passed. She said fees will have to be paid when people enroll for courses.

"Our department and schools have been working hard to prepare our students for this change and are hopeful that the impact will be minimal," she said this week. "However, until we begin registration we won't know the impact that the tuition fees have had on our programs."

Registration is open now, and classes begin Aug. 22.

Darlene Kostrub, chief executive officer of the Palm Beach County Literacy Coalition, was worried about the fallout from the legislation.

"Many of the people in adult education classes live either in poverty or near the poverty line," she said. "For them, this could be a very difficult decision. They may be already having trouble putting food on the table for their families.

"For all of us who are providers of adult education, we want everyone who needs these classes to be able to access them," she said. "Part of our mission is reaching out to adults who need literacy help, who are isolated by that need. We feel deeply about the need for a skilled workforce and also for parents to be able to help their kids with their homework, read a prescription medicine bottle, etc. We are afraid this new law is going to keep some of those people out of the classes they need."

She said her organization - which enrolls 500 to 600 students per year and helps direct students to the county programs - would continue to provide classes at no charge and forge on without the state money it received from the district, which last year totaled $60,000.

She said other smaller literacy programs in the county also were wrestling with the issue.

Sister Margaret Exworthy, director of the DePorres Place Adult Literacy Center, a nonprofit site currently moving from Riviera Beach to West Palm Beach, said her center does not take state money and its policy of offering free classes will not be affected. But her center could be affected if students who can't afford the county tuition fees try to sign up for her courses.

Her center had 168 students during its peak enrollment period last year, nowhere near the thousands who study with the county. "There's no way we are going to be able to absorb large numbers of those students," she said.

There are several private, free literacy programs in Palm Beach County.

At a statewide conference of the Florida Literacy Coalition in May, "people were very concerned about this issue," Exworthy said.

"They felt it would impact their programs," she said. "Not just the question if people could pay but also the issue of having to prove you are a resident."

With the tuition for nonresidents triple that of residents, the issue of proving residency will be crucial.

Traditionally adult education officials have not inquired about legal residency. With so many undocumented workers laboring in county industries - agriculture, hospitality, landscaping and roofing, for example - it is assumed that many students learning English as a second language are undocumented.

Under Senate Bill 2150, the district is obligated to ask all adult enrollees for two documents that establish their residency. One of those documents must include: a Florida voter registration card; a Florida driver license, vehicle registration or state identification card; a homestead exemption or other proof of a permanent home in Florida; transcripts from a Florida high school for multiple years if the Florida high school diploma or GED was earned within the last 12 months; or proof of permanent full-time employment in Florida for at least 30 hours per week for a 12-month period.

The school district also sponsors community education classes in subjects such as computers, the arts, cooking and exercise. But students already pay fees for those, Graffeo said, and they will not be affected


  1. There is no reason why adult students shouldn't pay a nominal fee for education. Nothing should be for free.

  2. Show me a Floridian near the poverty line who is skinny due to lack of food! I work with them all day, and they have the highest obesity rate in the State.

  3. my child's medicine or pay a fee to go to school? Put food on the table, or pay a fee to go to school? Stay on the welfare roles and in government subsidized housing, or become a contributor to society? The cost of illiteracy is higher than Anonymous seems to understand.