With state and federal budget cuts beginning to affect programs such as the Crawford County Adult Education Center, area education opportunities may diminish.
One third of CCAEC’s budget, about $156,000, was slashed this year, leaving director Debbie Faubus-Kendrick struggling to find a way to pay employees, maintain office hours and continue services, she said.
CCAEC provides education services such as general education diploma (GED) studies and testing, English as a second language, citizenship preparedness, Parents As Teachers Program, and COMPASS and ASVAB testing.
Also offered is certification for career readiness and Workforce Alliance for Growth in the Economy (WAGE). WAGE includes 112 basic skills competencies determined as essential by the nation’s and Arkansas’ employers.
Outside the center’s walls, workforce classes are provided at local businesses such as Peppersource and Simmons Foods, and testing services are provided to area fire and police departments.
"You can’t specifically say everything we do for people," she said. "I have tried to build our facility so that we are a resource for people."
Adult education had not seen a budget increase at the state level for 25 years, Faubus-Kendrick said. In the past two years, the number of centers in Arkansas has decreased from 52 to 47, she said.
CCAEC, located in Van Buren, is only open four days a week, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday and Wednesday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday.
With the budget cuts, night classes will have to go along with some staff, Faubus-Kendrick said. Limiting the hours of operation, available staff and classes provided means less people can be helped, she said.
"What it means is I’m having to let people go, we’re having to cut services outside of the center - it’s just not good for the community," Faubus-Kendrick said.
About 1000 students were served by the center last year, with 139 graduates of the GED program, said Cristy Brown with the CCAEC. The center’s successful graduation rate was 95 percent, compared to the state’s rate of 84 percent.
Center personnel issued 32 WAGE certificates, and worked with about 150 ESL students, Brown said. Not included in the numbers are those who come for college courses provided at the center and other services, she said.
Two of those helped by the center were David Goodpasture and Staci Fortson, both who had worked for Whirlpool in Fort Smith for 38 years until it shut done in June 2012.
To participate in a federal Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program that helps dislocated workers acquire new skills for job placement, Goodpasture and Fortson had to attend college.
College courses are paid for by TAA as long as the student maintains at least an average grade point and completes it within three years.
With no college experience and having been out of school for so many years, both sought help from the CCAEC to bridge their education gap, they said.
After getting the refresher courses - and confidence - they needed, both are now attending entrance level college courses at the center as they work toward associate’s degrees in business.
Fortson went from never having taken an Algebra course, to getting 101 out of 104 points on her first College Algebra test.
"I could not have done it without this place," Fortson said. "I could not have gone to college or even taken a COMPASS test."
When they heard about the cuts, both Goodpasture and Fortson sent letters explaining how the center had helped them to area lawmakers, including state representatives Gary Deffenbaugh, Charlotte Douglas and Charlene Fite, and State Sen. Bruce Holland.
"It was devastating enough to lose your job when you’re expecting to retire in five years and to have to learn something completely new; and then to learn they’re getting their budget cut after everything they’ve done for us," Fortson said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 21.1 percent of people aged 25 or above living in Crawford County during 2007-2011 did not have a high school diploma. Only 13.2 percent of people had a bachelor’s degree or higher.
"We see people that don’t have opportunities; that’s the whole thing, we give them those opportunities," Faubus-Kendrick said.
Three people from the center already have been laid off and may not return to work if Faubus-Kendrick is unable to convince Arkansas lawmakers to send more money her way.
"That is what I’m hoping; I’m trying to get some of the discretionary funds from legislators," Faubus-Kendrick said.
That, coupled with frantic grant writing by Faubus-Kendrick, may preserve current services at the center for another year. If not, with one third of the budget lost, so will be those served by the center.
"Whirlpool may not be the last factory to shut down in this area; you have to be realistic about that," Fortson said. "Where will those people go for help? Fort Smith cannot take care of everybody."