Hawthorne School, the indispensable Rochester facility where up to 2,000 immigrants learn to speak English every year, is set to lose more than $300,000 in Federal funds for its language programs thanks to the Bush administration's proposed federal budget for 2005.
And it's going to lose 100% of the funds it presently uses to run a program to help disadvantaged children begin school at an equal level with other children.
Last year, Hawthorne was forced to shut the school on Friday's and scale back on programs thanks to state and federal cutbacks.
Julie Nigon, Hawthorne's principal, has no idea where she will start cutting if the Bush administration's proposed education cuts go through.
"Teachers will have to go, programs will have to go," she said. "I just don't know where to start thinking about this."
The school's annual budget of $1.3 million comes roughly 2/3 from the state's Adult Basic Education (ABE) fund, and 1/3 from federal ABE funds. The Bush budget would cut roughly 75% of the federal ABE funds provided to Minnesota.
The school started in the early 1970s, when Vietnam war refugees started arriving in Rochester. Since that time, every successive wave of immigrants to southeast Minnesota has taken its first steps toward full participation in American society at the school -- Hmong, Cambodians, Eastern Eurpeans, Somalis, Sudanese and, most recently, Hispanics.
More than 800 students pass through Hawthorne every day, studying everything from English as a second language to GED preparation, writing classes, and parenting and cultural training.
Sixty low-income families in Rochester are presently enrolled in Even Start, one of the education programs the Bush administration has proposed to entirely eliminate. The classes help children before age five learn to start reading and speaking English so they can enter public school at the same level as other children.
"It's probably more palatable to the general public to cut programs like ours as opposed to K-12 programs, because they don't see it as effecting them directly," Nigon said. "The kind of people who come to our school, it's easy not to see them.
"You can not see them in virtually every restaurant in the state. You can not see them on the night shift at department stores, cleaning floors in every office building and every motel. You don't see them because they are not the kind of group to stand up and say 'How dare you take away my right to go to school?'
"We are a kind of sign of society's failure" at Hawthorne School, Nigon said, suggesting another reason why programs for immigrant education and literacy are often easily overlooked at Hawthorne and similar schools.
"We started as a sign of failure in Vietnam," having to educate the thousands of Vietnamese refugees who came to the U.S. in the 1970s. Then we were a sign of failure of the K-12 system," picking up students who either didn't graduate, or graduated but still couldn't read. "Then were were a sign of the many failures of diplomacy" of the U.S. and U.N. in places like Eastern Europe, Sudan, and Somalia.
"We will probably end up being a sign of the failure of 'no child left behind,'" she said.
Actually, Hawthorne School is one of the most upbeat and positive teaching environments anyone could wish for. The immigrants and refugees who study there are united in purpose, serious, focused, and generally help each other through the difficult process of learning a new language and customs.
The loss of more of its programs as the Bush budget education cutbacks continue won't be just a loss for Hawthorne, but for us all.