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Adult-Education Classes Flooded By Immigrants Seeking Amnesty

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Copyright 1988 The stream of new immigrants asking the public schools to help them learn English is swelling into an overwhelming flood this fall, as the federal immigration-amnesty program enters its second phase.

Local school officials in the handful of states where most of the immigrants have settled are trying to set up adult-education classes for thousands more than they coped with last year, and have waiting lists of thousands more.

In Los Angeles--where the schools scramble for space and time to operate 2,600 classes serving 103,000 adults, 500 percent more than they served last May--one adult-learning center stays open around the clock. And one New York City official said the state would offer classes "for 40 hours straight, if we have to," to help amnesty applicants meet the deadline.

Meanwhile, none of the affected school systems have yet received any of the new federal funding allocated to states for assistance programs. And some, including those in California, fear their costs will not be covered.

And the situation is certain to become more acute, officials say.

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service last week began sending out notices to the estimated 1.7 million applicants to the amnesty program who are seeking permanent residency under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.

The notices informed amnesty applicants--many for the first time--of the health, residential, and education requirements they must fulfill during the second phase of the application process.

Those seeking permanent residency are required to develop basic citizenship skills, including knowledge of English, and of U.S. history and government, or to show evidence that they are pursuing a course of study to meet that goal--with a minimum of 40 hours of instruction.

Applicants have one year to meet the requirement, beginning 18 months after the date they applied for amnesty. Since the amnesty period stretched from January 1987 to May 1988, that means that agencies providing services are likely to be swamped for the next two years.

More Classes Needed

Cecilia Munoz, an immigration policy analyst with the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group in Washington, estimates that the number of adult-education and English-as-a-second-language classes nationwide will have to increase by 80 percent to meet the needs of the amnesty applicants.

If the requirements are not met within the deadline, amnesty applicants will risk deportation, she said.

The five states that will be affected most are, in order of impact, California, Texas, New York, Illinois, and Florida, Ms. Munoz said.

The $4-billion Emergency Immigration Education Act of 1984 provides State Legalization Impact Assistance Grants (sliag) to partially reimburse states for their costs.

But states had to allocate the initial funding, and that has put a limit on the services available this year in many instances. In addition, there is said to be wrangling in some states over how the federal aid should be alloted.

'An Unacceptable Situation'

In California, where an estimated 900,000 amnesty applicants live, the sliag funds available statewide top $1.5 billion for the next four years.

The state has allotted about $351 million for education services to public schools--which are the key providers--and private agencies that offer adult-education classes.

But according to David Gordon, state deputy superintendent for public and government policy, the state has only allocated about $90 million this year for education services, despite the fact that classes will be in greatest demand this year. State education officials had lobbied hard but unsuccessfully on those grounds for increased aid.

Immigrant enrollments in adult-education classes throughout the state this year are expected to rise to 550,000 to 750,000, Mr. Gordon said, but the state will be able to reimburse the costs for only about 190,000.

He expects his department to be billed by school districts this year alone for between $170 million and $300 million in "reimbursable" costs. And "next year will be as bad or worse," he said, predicting that many of the adult school programs will have to shut down.

"It's an unacceptable situation," he said. "If we have the federal money, we should be able to use it now, when we need it."

The yearly allocation was limited by the legislature because the education department could not offer specific adult-education enrollment projections, since the time line for amnesty applicants to fulfill their education requirement varies so widely.

When the legislature reconvenes in January, Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig will again request more sliag funds, with stronger data in hand, Mr. Gordon said.

Continuing Education

In the Los Angeles Unified School District alone, the number of applicants for classes has risen steadily each month since the program began in May with 16,000 students in 432 classes.

Guido Rivero, a spokesman for the district, said there are now 27 adult-education schools--including theel15laround-the-clock program.

He said the district is anticipating about 250,000 more students in the citizenship-preparation classes within the next three years.

In addition to the press of new immigrants, who receive 200 hours of instruction because Los Angeles school officials believe the federal 40-hour minimum is too low, the adult program is beseiged by others who want to continue their education "to enhance their lives," Mr. Rivero said.

More than 30,000 are on the waiting list to get into the adult-education program for non-amnesty applicants, which is not entitled to federal funding. But the district has not been able to afford to provide the number of classes necessary, Mr. Rivero said.

Texas and New York

In Texas, the number of amnesty applicants enrolled in adult-education classes has more than doubled since Oct. 1, according to Pablos Roussos, program director for adult education for the Texas Education Agency.

There are currently 50,000 amnesty-eligible immigrants in the program, which has 62 "adult education cooperatives," regional groups of schools and private agencies that offer adult-education classes. Mr. Roussos said he expects a total of 145,000 immigrants to take classes this year.

Of the $110 million in sliag funds available to the state in fiscal 1989, the school system has requested $48 million to expand the program to meet that need. But the allocations have not yet been determined.

The principal problem in his state, he said, is not facilities but finding the needed teachers.

In New York State, Garrett W. Murphy, director of the division of continuing education, estimated that the number of adult-education and esl classes will have to increase by about 14 or 15 percent in the next year, especially in New York City, where about 80 percent of the amnesty applicants live.

Officials estimate that there are about 120,000 amnesty applicants in the state who will need to fulfill their education requirements. And even before the second phase of the amnesty program, Mr. Murphy said, "demand for adult-education classes outstripped supply."

State officials are currently working out how the $41 million available through sliag this year will be allocated. The education department has requested about $13 million for school services, he said, "and if we find we need more, we'll ask for it."

"It will be a strain, but it's do-able," Mr. Murphy said.

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