Much like a modern-day crusader, armed with photos, letters written by her adult students and a self-determination that Even Start works, Lisa Walker, lead teacher for Lafayette County's program packed her bags and headed to the nation's capitol this week.
Her mission along with 24 other Florida Even Start teachers is to convince President George W. Bush and the Senate to rescind the decision to cut federal funding for Even Start.
Walker said the group meets with the Senators on Wednesday, Nov. 9 to petition to save Even Start.
"If I have the opportunity to plead my case before President Bush, I'll do that as well," Walker said.
The literacy community finds itself once again at risk in Washington, with Even Start literally on the chopping block.
The House has approved $200 million for Even Start for Fiscal Year 2006, but the Senate has completely eliminated Even Start from the budget. The differences in the two bills must be reconciled in a conference committee. While the House has yet to choose conferees, the Senate has already named its 17 conferees.
There is talk in Congress about cutting funding from education, human services, and social benefits to pay for hurricane relief. Although most agree the Gulf Coast victims deserve federal support, Adult Education advocates say it smacks of the "Robbing Peter to pay Paul" syndrome, that passes money back and forth but doesn't seem to make any headway in either situation.
Time is of the essence, since the decisions could be made before the Thanksgiving recess on Nov. 18.
Walker said she and her fellow travelers want to have the opportunity to show the Senate members that Even Start works. Walker has worked with the program for ten years has seen numerous success stories come to fruition through programs such as Parenting, Adult Education, PACT Time and Early Childhood. These programs have an enrollment of 19 families with 32 children enrolled this year. Walker said she and her assistants has logged thousands of hours since August of 2005 impacting the lives of Lafayette County residents in a positive way.
Walker said the program offers a remedy to break the cycle of failure in the county through offering General Education Diplomas (GED) and parenting classes. This opens the doors to adults and children who might otherwise remain at a closed door with no way to walk through.
Debbie Land, Director of Instruction and Personnel, who oversees the Family Literacy Program said Walker and her staff go beyond the normal amount of help offered in many programs. Land said, "I am so proud of Lisa and all the people that work with her. The differences that she makes in her student's lives is obvious by the change in their educational and career accomplishments."
Land said she wrote a grant for $165,000 through Title One for this year and said there are grants they can compete for yearly to hopefully keep Even Start afloat. But this doesn't have the security that the Federal Budget has on a yearly basis said Land.
According to Walker, Even Start is more than a job for her and her staff, it is a calling, an opportunity to reach out to those who need an extra measure of encouragement.
"Many times it is the second chance that has caused a student to soar above their supposed limitations to be what they were destined to achieve, and I want to always be a part of it," concluded Walker.
Here's what you can do: Contact your senator and ask them to support level funding for Even Start, and ask them to contact Senator Spector to encourage him to support level funding as well.
Senate Conferees (Republicans):