Spelling Success or Failure

By Matt Markham

July 20, 2011 Updated Jul 20, 2011 at 6:24 PM EDT

Susquehanna County, PA (WBNG Binghamton) Much attention has been spent on budget cuts to school districts, but basic adult education could also suffer in the Northern Tier. The impact could go beyond the classroom.

"I was singing in the Church choir, and I couldn't read the words," said Doug Newton of Wyalusing. Newton came to the Susquehanna County Literacy Program almost twenty years ago. Back then, he couldn't read or write.

It spelled success for him...now he's a college student.

"Believe it or not, with all my learning disabilities, I have eighteen credits of English. I took Shakespeare last semester, and I loved it," Newton said.

But the Commonwealth cut funding to the Program -- the source of more than half its budget.

"To keep this place going, right now I've laid off staff," said Marilyn Morgan, Susquehanna County Literacy Program. "I'm relying on volunteers to come in and help me."

2,500 people have passed through here for basic education. "You can't get a job without a GED," Morgan says.

According to research, 13% of adults in Susquehanna County are illiterate. That's over 5,000 people.

"We realize that people need a location to come whether it be for computer access," said Sue Stone, director of the Susquehanna County Library System. "We are really trying to help the population of our county meet their educational and recreational needs."

The Susquehanna County Library opens its doors to job seekers -- some of whom can only look for jobs online.

Not everyone has or can pay for Internet access or knows how to use a keyboard.

It's trying to start early with kids.

"In the summer, we have up to five hundred children registered for our summer reading programs," Stone said.

But even that's a challenge as libraries also face cuts.

"When the government cuts money for these programs, they are hurting our future in the United States," Newton said.

It's estimated that low literacy contributes to $225 billion the country loses in work, crime, or unemployment benefits.

The Susquehanna County Literacy Program has a waiting list for people who want to take a GED class. They can't offer one until they have enough volunteers to run those classes.