Backing away from his controversial plan to hand control of adult education over to community colleges, Gov. Jerry Brown is instead proposing that regional consortia, made up of community colleges and school districts, determine adult ed’s future. However, his new plan is also stirring controversy.
In his budget revision unveiled Tuesday, Brown provides substantially more dedicated funding for adult education beginning in 2015-16, raising the amount allocated to $500 million instead of the $300 million in his original budget proposal for 2013-14 released in January. Brown’s original budget would also have made community colleges the lead agency for running the programs, which traditionally have been run by K-12 districts.
However, Brown’s latest budget plan would retain the status quo for adult education, at least in the short term: For the next two years there will be no dedicated funding for adult ed programs.
This concerns Chris Nelson, president of the California Council for Adult Education and administrator for Oakland Unified’s adult education program, which the school board has voted to close at the end of the school year.
“It appears that the $300 million that the governor proposed for next year earmarked for adult education to go to the community college system is no longer in the budget,” he said.
Adult education has not had a dedicated funding stream since 2009, when the state allowed school districts to use adult ed funds for any purpose. That loosening of restrictions on the funds has led to the closing or erosion of adult ed programs throughout the state. To encourage school districts to not abandon their current adult schools and to join a regional consortium, the governor’s budget revision proposes that 75 percent of the $500 million – or $350 million – must go to existing programs. The remaining $150 million would presumably go to regions, particularly in rural counties, that do not currently have adult education programs. It will be up to the California Department of Education and the community colleges’ Chancellor’s Office to allocate the funds, but the funding would be part of the California Community Colleges’ budget.
During the past few months, more districts have given preliminary layoff notices to adult school staff based on the governor’s earlier proposal to shift responsibility to community colleges starting in 2013-14. The governor’s change of heart is due to these “unintended consequences,” according to Ana Matosantos, California’s director of finance.
Although adult education advocates “acknowledge and appreciate” the governor’s efforts to provide incentives for districts to keep adult ed programs, they do not think his proposal goes far enough to protect adult education, said Dawn Koepke, a lobbyist and spokesperson for the two statewide organizations supporting adult ed, the California Council for Adult Education (CCAE) and the California Adult Education Administrators Association (CAEAA).
Many school districts do not want to continue to fund adult ed unless they have funding specifically dedicated to adult programs, she said.
“School districts like Oakland are prepared to sweep the remaining adult education dollars in full to backfill their K-12 programs,” she said in an e-mail. “As such, this proposal does nothing to ensure that the once fifth largest adult education program in the state is maintained – particularly with the increasing need for English as a Second Language and citizenship programs under the proposed federal immigration reform plan.”
Koepke said advocates are also concerned about the funding being part of the community colleges’ budget. “This is incredibly problematic as it provides greater authority and decision making to the California Community Colleges despite suggesting that the California Department of Education would be a key participant in allocating the dollars,” she said. “If the California Department of Education has no formal budget authority over those dollars, there is no assurance that such fair, collaborative decision making will occur.”
Koepke says she plans to work with the Legislature to address the adult ed community’s concerns. Some legislators had openly disagreed with Brown’s initial proposal to shift all responsibility to community colleges.
Less controversial is the governor’s proposal to focus funds on areas he deems most important: English as a Second Language, high school diploma and GED preparation, citizenship and career-technical courses. Funds could not be used for parenting, home economics or older adult programs.
Before the recession, the state spent $634 million in dedicated funding for adult education. In 2009, when districts were allowed to use adult ed funds for any purpose, many chose to give that money to K-12 programs instead. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that currently only about $300 million is spent on adult education.
The governor’s proposed consortia could also include other groups that provide adult education classes, such as California Workforce Investment boards, local correctional facilities and community-based organizations. The budget allocates $30 million in 2013-14 for two-year planning and implementation grants.
Both the California Department of Education and the Legislative Analyst’s Office have urged the governor to develop a more coordinated regional approach to organizing adult education programs to avoid duplicative efforts by K-12 adult schools and community colleges. Koepke said the organizations she represents also support such coordination.