Karen Arthur

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.

Kristen Pursley

Kristen Pursley

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.

Karen Arthur is an Oxnard Adult School teacher and founding member of Alliance for California Adult Schools.

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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  1. Dan Cutler 2 years ago2 years ago

    The horrifying stories of adults who cannot provide for their children due to lack of education, and lacking skills to enter the community colleges demonstrates the importance of adult schools in the K-12 districts. If parents of children can not speak with their children's teachers, need translators to do so, and continue to work 2-3 jobs to support their families, how can California feel good about cutting the adult schools out of the K-12 programs? … Read More

    The horrifying stories of adults who cannot provide for their children due to lack of education, and lacking skills to enter the community colleges demonstrates the importance of adult schools in the K-12 districts. If parents of children can not speak with their children’s teachers, need translators to do so, and continue to work 2-3 jobs to support their families, how can California feel good about cutting the adult schools out of the K-12 programs? Community colleges are for students who have experienced school through a high school level education, and who need a transition before starting the 4 year colleges/universities. By cutting adult schools from the K-12 districts, you are basically saying that remedial English is not important, and everyone should come to this country speaking a high school level of English. Community colleges should not be teaching remedial English, and adult learners with less than a third grade education should not be attending a community college. There is a definite NEED for English (ESL) in the K-12 districts, and cutting this would merely create more homeless people, or overflow the community colleges with remedial learners.

  2. Steve T. 2 years ago2 years ago

    As a high school history teacher, I would like to see community colleges take over the work of adult schools in my district. The “equivalent” adult school courses that students at our school can take for credit are so easy as to be laughable.

  3. Bob Harper 2 years ago2 years ago

    Thank you Ms. Pursley and Ms. Arthur for a clear description of the current status of the K-12 adult schools (158 years old and ready for the prime of life). The conversations in the 70 regional consortia have such potential to achieve significant improvements in educational services for the most vulnerable and marginalized adult learners in our communities. But unless some basic things are established from the funding model there will be unforeseen … Read More

    Thank you Ms. Pursley and Ms. Arthur for a clear description of the current status of the K-12 adult schools (158 years old and ready for the prime of life). The conversations in the 70 regional consortia have such potential to achieve significant improvements in educational services for the most vulnerable and marginalized adult learners in our communities. But unless some basic things are established from the funding model there will be unforeseen collateral damage. Simply replacing K-12 adult schools with expanded or new non-credit programs in the colleges will not automatically serve the most marginalized. Having both systems challenge themselves to improve curriculum, build bridges and alignments between adult schools and community colleges (and between non-credit and credit in the colleges), and innovative instructional models is what the students deserve and what faculty in both systems welcome. Next year the community colleges, as a result of funding policy changes, can already receive the same funding for non-credit adult education as credit classes. They need to leverage those resources already in place to build new and more effective non-credit programs for adults. Adult schools need to be part of that development, and build effective transitions to the colleges for students who need and choose that pathway. Unless there is clarity about the fiscal support for K-12 adult schools these emerging collaborations will not have the collective impact that is possible. I hope the Governor does not waste this unique opportunity to do something new. Doing the right thing is simple; doing the wrong thing will create unnecessary damage to an adult education system that, among other things, is poised to serve the 3.1 million unauthorized residents of California that may need secondary education per the President’s recent executive order. Let’s hope the Governor and the Legislature move us forward.

  4. Fred Jones 2 years ago2 years ago

    There's often good reasons why certain Categorical programs were funded directly by the state, not least of which has been the narrowing of curriculum that has been generated by a statewide accountability system that measures a very limited bandwidth of education (primarily Math/ELA). State policymakers have recognized the deficiency by compelling districts to spend money on programs that wouldn't ordinarily be a priority for local schools/districts. If a particular and valuable program (like Adult Ed, … Read More

    There’s often good reasons why certain Categorical programs were funded directly by the state, not least of which has been the narrowing of curriculum that has been generated by a statewide accountability system that measures a very limited bandwidth of education (primarily Math/ELA). State policymakers have recognized the deficiency by compelling districts to spend money on programs that wouldn’t ordinarily be a priority for local schools/districts.

    If a particular and valuable program (like Adult Ed, or Career Technical Education) is not part of the accountability/measurement regime, and its courses aren’t required for college admissions or mandated for high school graduation, the only way these valuable programs will survive is dedicated funding streams from the state. In short, local schools aren’t given any incentive to protect these programs, so the state has had to fill the void.

    LCFF doesn’t sufficiently acknowledge this reality. And that is why the Legislature and Governor agreed to seriously and substantively consider all Categoricals and determine if any should survive the new era of local, financial control.

    I for one believe CTE needs state protection … just look at the steep enrollment declines since “Cat Flex” was instituted in 2008, which are only diving deeper since LCFF’s adoption nearly two years ago. At this rate — and with no change to protect state resources dedicated to it, California will have successfully gutted the initial stages of its workforce development pipeline (i.e., middle and secondary CTE programs) within only a few more years.