With clear signals from the Department of Finance that the Brown administration will at least discuss changes to its controversial proposal to shift all responsibility for adult education to community colleges, a Senate subcommittee has delayed a vote on the proposal in the hopes that all sides of the debate can agree on a compromise.
“We’re looking at ways to address opponents’ concerns going forward,” Mario Rodriguez, a budget analyst with the Department of Finance, told the members of Senate Subcommittee 1 on Education on Thursday. The subcommittee could have decided to support the governor’s proposal or oppose it as an Assembly subcommittee did in a unanimous vote on March 19.
Finance department spokesman H.D. Palmer said after the hearing that the Brown administration still thinks the initial proposal is sound but is “willing to have discussions with the overall goal of moving this process forward.”
At this point, no one else appears to be happy with Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal to provide dedicated funding for adult education programs only to community colleges. Prior to the recession, the state dedicated about $634 million for adult schools to K-12 districts. In order to give districts more flexibility during tough economic times, the state allowed districts to use that money for any educational purpose, and many reduced adult education offerings. Districts now spend less than $300 million on adult education.
Brown’s proposal would give community colleges $300 million in dedicated funding for adult education, but Dan Troy, vice chancellor of finance and facilities planning for the community college system, expressed concerns about the timing. If community colleges are expected to take over all adult education, “we need a realistic transition and time frame,” he said, whether that means six months or two years. “The key is to get it right and implement it in a realistic way.”
Adult schools serve some of the state’s neediest adults, offering community-based literacy and English language courses, citizenship and parenting classes, vocational education, and GED and high school diploma courses. Currently, both K-12 school districts and community colleges provide adult education classes.
Sen. Carol Liu, D-Glendale, and chair of the Senate Human Services Committee, has been working with adult ed advocates, including the California Department of Education, to focus adult education programs so that they provide clear pathways to college and careers, said Erin Gabel, who testified on behalf of Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who supports dedicated funding for K-12 adult education programs. Gabel pointed out that K-12-based adult ed, unlike most community college adult ed programs, focuses on serving adults who need basic literacy and language skills.
“There are growing concerns about national immigration reform,” she said, adding that California will need more classes such as English as a Second Language and citizenship, to meet those immigrants’ needs.
Chris Nelson, president of the California Council for Adult Education, said already more than 70 adult schools have closed and another 20 have notified their staff that they plan to close at the end of this school year. One of those 20 is Oakland’s adult school, which has been in existence for 141 years and where Nelson is the administrator.
“We will be the largest city in the state without an adult education program,” he said.
After the hearing, Nelson said he was glad the senators will reconsider the issue at a later date. “We’re hopeful that in the next few weeks through meetings and discussions that we can come up with an alternative plan before the May Revise (the governor’s revision of his budget proposal due in May).”