In his 2013 budget, Gov. Jerry Brown included a provision to safeguard existing adult schools from further cuts and closures. The “maintenance of effort” clause mandated that school districts maintain their current level of funding for adult education for two years, during the formation of regional consortia, as outlined by Assembly Bill 86.
The maintenance of effort expires at the end of the current school year. Adult schools and community colleges are currently engaged in a regional planning process to create consortia between adult schools and community colleges, with the regions defined by community college districts. Brown has indicated that he intends to provide money for adult education through the regional consortia, although he has not yet spelled out how to do so.
Regional consortia funding would come through the Community College Chancellor’s Office, not through the Department of Education. The governor and the finance department favor this model because it simplifies the budgets of K-12 schools under the Local Control Funding Formula, which permanently eliminated adult education as a protected program.
Brown’s goal of putting “responsibility where it should be,” by eliminating the prescriptive commands from Sacramento, is admirable. However, the educational needs of California’s adults were not considered when this model was adopted – and, not surprisingly, the model would serve them poorly. Simply transferring the money for adult education to community colleges without restrictions will not assure the colleges will actually spend money for this purpose.
Adult schools have enabled low-skilled learners to transition to community college or the workforce and to engage in civic and community life. Money was provided through protected funding – categorical programs – to ensure that economically vulnerable groups had access to educational programs. We’ve already seen what can happen without these protections. During the last recession, when the Legislature let districts use adult ed funds at their discretion, adult schools suffered devastating cuts – more than any other sector of public education. During the 2007-08 school year, the state spent about $750 million on adult education through K-12 funding. The amount spent under budget flexibility, and during the last two years of maintenance of effort, is estimated to be about $350 million. Two years ago, Brown proposed $500 million as an adult education budget for the 2015-16 school year.
Adult school instructors worked alongside all public school teachers to pass temporary taxes under Proposition 30. Its passage brought in $6 billion for California’s public education programs. However, adult schools have seen no restoration of their devastated budgets.
Rural adult schools at risk
The consortia are designed to preserve the “dual delivery system” (adult schools and community colleges) while bringing the two systems into better alignment. Two of the strongest arguments for retaining adult schools were that 1) adult schools are more geographically accessible for many California adults than community colleges and 2) adult schools support the mission of K-12 schools.
There are about 300 adult schools in California, and 112 community colleges. Community colleges tend to be located in urban areas. Rural and remote areas, if they are served at all, are more likely to be served by an adult school. Community colleges may put their own needs first and cut or close adult schools in their consortium area the next time there is a financial crisis if all funding for adult education comes through them, just as school districts closed their adult schools during the last financial crisis. Adult schools in remote and rural locations, which serve a smaller and less organized student body, will be most at risk.
Adult schools do provide significant support to the mission of K-12 schools, by increasing parent involvement in their children’s education and helping parents develop the skills to support their children’s school success through English as a Second Language, family literacy and parent education classes at school sites. Supporting the parents and the community of low-income, English-learner children – the students that the Local Control Funding Formula is designed to help – is crucial to their success.
As the need for ESL instruction increases with Obama’s immigration plan, it is critical that reform measures protect the existing educational infrastructures in the adult school system. A report by the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., based policy organization, outlined its concern that current reform efforts may adversely affect learners who are less prepared. The report notes that adult students with higher levels of English proficiency and academic preparation will be able to make the transition to postsecondary degrees and certificate programs, but policies need to ensure the inclusion of learners struggling to master basic skills.
A dual funding system to both community colleges and adult schools is necessary to ensure a dual delivery system. We cannot afford to risk further cuts to K-12 adult ed, an important educational safety net that has a far-reaching societal impact. California’s adult schools need dedicated funding in order to:
- Create equity within the consortia;
- Assure adequate and equitable funding for adult schools;
- Keep adult education accessible;
- Ensure that needs of adult learners are met.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office 2012 report advised that the state maintain an adult education system that includes both K-12 adult schools and community colleges. They also recommended that adult schools be returned to categorical status.
The current plan for one funding stream puts adult schools at risk for further cuts and closures. School districts plan their budgets a year in advance. Dedicated funding for K-12 adult ed, starting with the budget that Gov. Brown will present in January, will assure that adult schools survive and continue to meet the need for adult education services in California.
Kristen Pursley is an adult education teacher with West Contra Costa Adult Education, founding member of COSAS – Communities Organized to Support Adult Schools – and writes the Save Your Adult School blog.
The opinions expressed in this commentary represent solely those of the author. EdSource welcomes commentaries representing diverse points of view. If you would like to submit a commentary, please contact us.
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