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Budget Cuts Hamper Plymouth-Canton Adult Education

Prolonged state cuts limit choices for those looking for low-cost ways to update or improve their skills.

Kevin Lane said he sees a lot of hardship among his students at , Plymouth-Canton School District's alternative education spot for students ages 16 and older.

"We have students here that are working through all sorts of difficult circumstances," said Lane, the adult education coordinator at Starkweather.

"We've had homeless students, students that had to drop out of school to go to work, others that are responsible for children. There are many reasons a person does not or cannot finish high school," he said.

But in the current economic environment, it's becoming increasingly difficult for students who need to return to school.

According to the study, "Good Ideas are Not Enough: Michigan's Adult Learning System Needs More State Funding," budget cuts have reduced the number of programs and limited the number of students who can avail themselves of high school completion and career programs.

Funding has fallen by more than 50% since 2001

The study, compiled by the Michigan League for Human Services, cites a drop in state adult education funding from $96 million in 2001 to $36 million in 2010.

According to Lane, both state and federal funding for adult programs have decreased for three consecutive academic years. For the 2007-08 school year, the district received $201,255 in state funding; for 2008 it was $181,300; and for 2009, funding was slashed to $163,236.

Federal numbers also spiraled downward in 2009, with the district receiving $72,000 in 2007 and 2008, and $60,000 in 2009, said Lane. Numbers for 2010 have not been determined.

The cash crunch forced a number of difficult choices at Starkweather, where adult education mostly focuses on high school completion, GED preparation, and English as a second language courses.

Adult education snapshot

Starkweather hosts adult learners and high school students. Currently, 107 adult learners are enrolled in programs funded wth state adult education funds. High school students are funded through Plymouth-Canton School District's regular K-12 budget.

Students are enrolled in several programs, with most being in English-language classes, followed by GED and high school completion programs, said Lane.

The major cut made at Starkweather is the GED program, which offers half the hours it once did for student preparation.

"We had to cut it from eight hours to four hours," Lane said. "We're trying to serve as many students as possible."

One effect of the statewide cuts is that as other districts close their adult education programs, there is more demand for Starkweather's programs, Lane said.

"I think one big reason that people are inquiring is that there's been a job loss," Lane said. "One difference I see is that the people seem more desperate than before."

None of this surprises Judy Putnam, Michigan League for Human Services  spokeswoman.

"At a time when people desperately need the retraining opportunities, there's less available," she said. "Obtaining a high school degree, or a GED, is the first step in getting to the next level of education, which increases a person's ability to be employed."

Michigan League for Human Services' study indicates that annual earnings for a person without a high school diploma is $20,384. A high school graduate would earn about $29,557, according to the study.

Voices from the front

Starkweather student Rayshaun Duncan, 22, said receiving his diploma is more important to him now than when he was actually in high school.

"I moved to Ohio, but then I made some bad decisions," he said. "I came up here to start a new path for myself."

Initially, Duncan hoped to take the GED exam, but realized that he needed the reinforcements provided by classroom work.

Kulwinder Gill, 30, is also completing high school classes because she was unable to do so while living in her native country, India.

"I wanted to do this so I can get a better job and help my family," she said.

Gill, whose husband is a cab driver, was forced to stop her high school education when her father died.

Gill and Duncan said they hope to move on to Schoolcraft College. Gill is not sure what she would like to study; Duncan said he's is looking for a program in the medical field.

They agreed that Starkweather classes will improve their lives.

"The program here is great," Duncan said. "For the first time, I feel like I'm moving in a positive direction."

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