Officials from the King County Jail and Seattle Central Community College have reached an agreement to preserve women's education in the jail, one week before the 30-year-old program was slated to expire indefinitely. As we reported several weeks ago, the women's program had run out of money and there was no plan in place to keep it running.
"We have an agreement in principal that [SCCC] will provide a teacher to continue the women’s GED classes in fall," says jail director Claudia Balducci. "My goal is to have the class up and running in September, and it even looks like we’ll be able to offer one more hour a week than we’ve been offering."
"We're very happy that we'll be teaching the women," adds David Gourd, Interim Dean of SCCC's basic and transitional studies program, which currently oversees men's educational programming in the jail. "We never wanted to abandon them—that was never our intention."
Up until last year, SCCC ran 20 hours of men's education classes per week, along with 10 hours of women's classes. Then, last June, the community college dropped its women's programming entirely to beef up its more funding-lucrative men's programming. At that point, Literacy*Americorps stepped in to offer four hours of women's GED classes in the jail.
However, this May the Americorps subsidiary was notified that its funding was gone. The last day of women's classes in the jail was scheduled for July 27.
But Balducci says that King County has now agreed to funnel the $12,000-$15,000* annually that it was paying Literacy*Americorps to hire one SCCC teacher, which should eliminate the funding instability that has plagued the program for the last year. "If we take this in-house we’re much more in control and we don’t have to worry about classes being cut out from under us again," she says. "This will probably be cost-neutral for us."
Balducci and Gourd say that a few details still need to be hammered out—the Literacy*Americorps teachers also ran a beloved jail tutoring program and responded to hundreds of book requests submitted by incarcerated men and women, among other administrative support—but it's pretty clear that women's education classes are being prioritized.
"I was pretty impressed with the way people came to the table," Balducci says. "SCCC, my staff, they all came with what they could bring. When folks are motivated that way, it’s amazing what you can do."
*The amount changes depending on who I'm speaking with.