Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal to give the state’s community colleges $300 million to run adult education is leaving K-12 districts in a quandary. Should they assume Brown’s idea will become law, plan to close their adult schools and hope that their local community college will be able to pick up those programs? Should they plan to keep their adult school open for one more year to help make a smooth transition? Or should they continue to use what has historically been dedicated adult school funding, but has shifted into K-12 districts’ general funds, to support their own adult school?
Preliminary feedback from an EdSource survey of the state’s largest districts show that districts are divided. Some, such as Oakland Unified, are issuing preliminary layoff notices to adult school teachers and plan to close their adult schools if the governor’s plan goes through. Likewise, San Juan Unified will close its program unless the local community college wants to contract with the district. Still others, such as Clovis, Elk Grove and Los Angeles, plan to keep their adult programs open for at least one more year, paying out of their general funds.
Matt Saldaña, who heads Long Beach Unified’s adult school, says his district does not plan to continue funding adult education programs if Brown’s plan is approved. He is thinking about coming up with a transition plan for his 1,000-plus adult students, down from about 15,000 students three years ago when adult education was still a categorical program with dedicated funding. If the governor’s proposal goes through, “our program would go away,” he said, adding that he is hopeful the local community college would pick up his students. “I hope the transition plan can be implemented slowly, over time.”
Angel Gallardo, human resources director at Montebello Unified, says his district highly values its adult ed program and would like to keep funding it. But, he asks, if neighboring districts instead use those funds to boost K-12 programs, won’t parents in his district expect the same?
Adult schools are an important strand in the state’s safety net, offering community-based classes to some of the state’s neediest adults, ranging from the unemployed, the disabled and the elderly, to ex-offenders reentering society and immigrants trying to learn English and become citizens. Classes include English as a Second Language, basic education, high school diploma and GED, citizenship, and vocational education.
Where the money goes
In 2009, $634 million in state funds previously earmarked for adult education became “flexible,” allowing school districts to use the money for any educational purpose. With budgets eroding due to the recession, many districts channeled those funds into K-12 programs. Some districts, such as Anaheim Union High, closed their adult schools, while others, including Oakland and Long Beach, cut back severely. Still others, such as Montebello, continued to support their adult schools. Altogether, however, only an estimated $300 million in state funds – less than half of what was available before the recession – is currently being spent on district-run adult education programs. Before the recession, about 1 million students participated in adult ed programs in school districts and community colleges.
Although some community colleges, such as San Francisco City College and San Diego City College, have thriving community-based adult ed programs, representatives from other colleges agree with school district advocates that the larger campuses are not as conducive to offering the courses as the more intimate K-12 schools. Some have also expressed concerns that the shift is being proposed too quickly, with very little planning for how it will be accomplished.
Adult school advocates applaud Brown’s proposal to return dedicated or “categorical” funding to adult education. But because the money will go to community colleges, the plan could end up harming the state’s remaining adult schools by making it easier for districts to give in to pressures to abandon adults in their community in favor of the K-12 students who are their central mission. The $300 million by itself would also not be enough to keep some of the larger urban programs afloat, even if the local college contracted with the district, because the money would be spread among the 112 community colleges around the state based on overall student enrollment. Even colleges that have no adult ed programs and whose nearby school districts have no adult ed schools would get a share.
The state Department of Finance is aware of this issue. The $300 million is a “starting point,” said H.D. Palmer, spokesperson for the Finance Department. “We can refine it in the future if we find out we need more money or less. We want to make sure that adult education is firmly funded. If urban districts aren’t getting what they need, we are open to relooking at it.” Community colleges are free to contract with local adult schools to provide the services, Palmer added.
The push to keep it local
Rocky Bettar, who heads Rowland Unified’s adult education program in the San Gabriel Valley near Los Angeles and is vice president of communications for the California Adult Education Administrators Association (CAEAA), said that her association’s members “appreciate the governor’s move to have a separate funding source for adult ed, but it’s in the wrong place. Community colleges cannot do what adult schools can.” The administrators association recently held a meeting in southern California as part of an organizing effort to save district-run adult programs.
One of the primary arguments for supporting district-based adult ed is access. Advocates say that many students enter the education system through literacy classes at their children’s school. They then move on to English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to basic education, high school diploma and citizenship classes. For these students, college campuses can be intimidating, advocates say.
Onice Rodriguez, 18, is working on getting a high school diploma through the Campbell Unified School District’s adult ed program north of San Jose. She came to the United States as a 13-year-old, had trouble adjusting to high school, and dropped out.
The adult school is really close to her house, Rodriguez said. “For me, it would be hard to go to a community college; I don’t feel comfortable there,” she said. “I think they won’t understand me or be able to help me. There are so many students. It would be hard.”
Rodriguez attended a recent Northern California conference sponsored by the California Council for Adult Education (CCAE), a sister organization to the administrators group, at the Berkeley Adult School, a large, unadorned, beige building with concrete floors on San Pablo Avenue in North Berkeley.
Inside, the educators attending the conference were anything but drab. Some sported bright red T-shirts with images of upraised fists holding pencils and the words “Adult Education Matters.”
Bruce Neuburger, who teaches at San Mateo Adult School and San Francisco Community College, which has a model adult school program, said any plan to address adult education that does not take into account the hundreds of thousands of people who need adult education services is a “non-starter.”
“First, re-fund and reopen the adult schools that have been shut down or decimated and work to keep community in community college, and then it might be possible to talk, in a serious way, about merging aspects of the two systems,” he said.
Although his speech was by far the fieriest, his tone resonated in the crowded gymnasium of adult educators weary from repeated efforts to preserve a program they believe everyone would support if they would only take the time to understand its importance.
Joanne Durkee, director of Mt. Diablo Adult Education and the legislative chair for the Council, spoke highly of the December 2012 Legislative Analyst’s report, Restructuring California’s Adult Education System, which details what could be done to make adult education more effective. The report recommends keeping categorical funding for adult schools within K-12 districts, but said that redundancies in some communities where adult schools and the local college programs overlap should be eliminated. Durkee credited the efforts made by Legislative Analyst’s Office staff to visit programs and conferences so they really understood adult education.
“We tailor ourselves to our local communities, and that can look very messy when you’re sitting in Sacramento looking out,” Durkee said. “Typically we find that when people really get what we are, they become really passionate about adult ed.”
At a later workshop where educators discussed how to fight the governor’s proposal, one educator suggested that the governor cares about poor people. “We need to get him down here to show him what we do,” he said.
One goal of the governor’s proposal – to get adult schools and community colleges to collaborate – appears to be working. At the conference in Berkeley, half of the speakers supporting district-controlled adult education were from community colleges.
Paul Downs is coordinator of Silicon Valley Allies Project, a coalition of adult schools and community colleges. He worked on the California Department of Education’s strategic plan for adult education, Linking Adults to Opportunity, which called for regional centers throughout the state.
“To simply say the responsibility should be shifted without much of a thought process or a planning process runs the risk that the colleges are not necessarily ready to take on this responsibility,” Downs told the crowd of adult ed educators. “They are not aligned to this population like you are.”
Usha Narayanan, who teaches at both Campbell Adult School and at De Anza College, said students without basic skills cannot get enough support in many community colleges. “I provide as much support as I can in limited time, but it’s not enough,” she said. “I make appointments with them, but they don’t show up. An adult education instructor can provide that support every day. I’m not able to (provide that for my college students) even though I work in both systems.”
The adult school advocates are gearing up for April 17, when they will descend on Sacramento to lobby legislators as they prepare to review the governor’s proposals. The constitutional deadline for the Legislature to pass a budget and send it to the governor is June 15, though it is not always met.