The final days for San Antonio’s Adult Education Learning Centers are looming. The seven centers fell victim in the last city budget scrubbing, but the loss of the centers comes at a time when a new state law changes the way many people use community outreach programs to learn English, or pick-up computer skills.
On Thursday, the final day of class wrapped up at the Columbia Heights Learning Center off I-35 just south of downtown. Juan, who only wanted to be identified by his first name, showed up extra early just as he does every class day to study. He wasn't preparing for a test, and in fact, the last day of class came with some perks, including cake, gifts and certificates of completion.
The Mexican native said he simply wants to learn.
"When I was young, I never had time to come to take a class and everything because [I was] working day and night," he said. "Now, I am older and I have time and I come to take classes for typing and computers."
His words resonate with others at Columbia Heights, too, because the center is a refuge for people trying to better their life.
Nena Castaneda works with one of the programs used at the center, Maestra en Casa.
"I was, I was scared, and I was nervous to know that it was going to affect the program," she said. "But the good thing [is] that we are going to be having other centers offering [the program], so I think that's a good thing,"
And that's true, at least partly, according to the city's Human Services director, Melody Woosley. The seven centers will be closing, but three will reopen under the direction of school districts. In some cases, the land is owned by the city and the building by another entity. As long as the centers are operating for the purpose of adult education, Woosley said, the city will allow the center to continue under the school district, or the Education Service Center, Region 20.
As for the four remaining centers, Woosley said negotiations are underway to decide how the centers will proceed. In some cases, the classes may move to another nearby community center, or a library.
But for people like Juan, the closing of a center he's been attending for quite some time is disappointing and heartbreaking. Woosley said that's why other options are becoming available.
"We never want to displace people from a facility that they're comfortable with or have been attending for a while, and that's one of the reasons we really worked so closely with our providers to ensure there wasn't a disruption of services," she said.
The closure is in part due to the city budget. The San Antonio City Council recently adopted a new budget, but council members had to take drastic measures to close the multi-million dollar budget gap. But the other reason for the closure, Woosley noted, is because of a new law.
Senate Bill 307 shifts funding from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for adult education and literacy to the Texas Workforce Commission. The law specifies that money will be used for job-related education and searches.
Woosley said work to begin transitioning the adult learning centers began early.
"It was done very cautiously and deliberately. We began working with our education provider partners in August to ensure that there was a smooth transition," she said.
Manuel Flores, an instructor with Region 20, echoed those sentiments. For each of the students he called to the front of the classroom on Thursday, he said, "Please come forward and walk one step closer to the American dream." They had studied and learned English in his class. Although a long way from their goal, Flores encouraged them to continue to learn.
Students are cleared of all the adult learning centers now. They officially close on Friday after staff members can complete a final inventory.
Woosley said the value of the centers can't be underestimated, and looks forward to negotiations resulting in the continuation of the remaining centers.
"The classes really help improve family self-sufficiency by getting people to a higher education level. We also see a lot of grandparents who want to read to their grandchildren, so there's that community benefit as well," she said. "The classes are absolutely very important in the community."