The Thorn Hill Education Center has proven itself a survivor. After the Franklin County school system withdrew as fiscal agent in 2009, moved community education to its own Career and Technical Center and put the education center building (an old elementary school) up for sale, the non-profit Thorn Hill Foundation won an adult education grant and bought the property. Even though it theoretically ceded responsibility to county schools for community education, it has continued its own “enrichment” courses for adults and thus uses the property for multiple purposes.
Now that furor over the split with county schools has subsided, Thorn Hill faces a new challenge: Some people apparently are under the misimpression that it’s either out of business or operates only to prepare students for GED high school equivalency diplomas. Maybe that’s why Franklin County government is reluctant to upgrade its financial assistance to the center.
Earlier this month, when Fiscal Court discussed 2012-2013 subsidies to local charity and public-service organizations, it looked at Thorn Hill’s request for $30,000 and had mixed feelings about even renewing the $5,000 granted in 2011-2012. Judge-Executive Ted Collins was inclined to reduce the allocation.
Magistrate Larry Perkins, a former member of the Franklin County Board of Education who still advocates for education, came to Thorn Hill’s defense, citing the center’s efforts not only in preparing high school dropouts to earn GEDs but also in helping them go on to college if they choose. Thorn Hill’s contributions to a better-educated, job-ready community mean there’s a little less need for some of the aid provided by other social-service groups the county subsidizes. A converted Collins agreed to maintain the $5,000 contribution.
Unfortunately, that’s far short of the $30,000 Thorn Hill says it needs for services such as child care and transportation of adult students, some of whom live on poverty income. Executive Director Mike Rosenstein and Assistant Director Barry Burkett invited Fiscal Court members to stop by the education center this week on their annual road trip to hear a pitch about the institution’s value to the community. Judging from comments by magistrates afterwards, progress was made, although the elected leaders held out little hope of hitting the desired target, let alone matching the $32,500 allotted by the City Commission.
It was Perkins, again, who went to bat for Thorn Hill. He said he wants to give the education center at least as much as the Resource Office of Social Ministries ($23,000) or the Access Soup Kitchen ($8,000).
In mulling over the issue, the magistrates should recognize that in addition to GED preparation, Thorn Hill’s adult education program teaches English to non-English speakers, preps students for college or technical school and admissions testing, conducts a two-year “Whatever Is Needed” program for 16-18-year-olds who require extra help completing the GED course and, in FLIP (Families Learning through Interaction), takes an intergenerational approach to learning.
We still question the practice of using taxpayers’ money to distribute city and county subsidies every year to outside organizations that simultaneously solicit free-will donations from those same taxpayers as individuals. But as long as the policy remains in effect, it’s hard to think of a better candidate for assistance than the Thorn Hill Education Center.