The governor’s proposed budget, unveiled last week, allocates $500 million for an Adult Education Block Grant, with a provision that existing K-12 adult ed programs be funded for another year.
The new funding allows more time for recently formed local consortia of adult schools, community colleges and other organizations that serve adults to determine what programs their communities need, how they will be funded and who is going to provide them.
K-12 adult schools have been fighting for survival since the recession, when school districts were allowed to use funding formerly dedicated for adult schools for any educational purpose. Many districts, trying to minimize cuts to their K-12 programs, took advantage of this new flexibility and eliminated or severely cut funding to their adult schools.
To stop the decimation of the state’s adult ed programs, the governor and legislators in the 2013-14 budget required districts that still had adult programs to maintain them for two years. If the governor’s current proposal is enacted, adult programs will have direct, dedicated state funding.
Debra Jones, dean of career education practices at the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, calls what is outlined in the budget “a gift to adult students.”
“I never dreamed I would see dedicated funding for disenfranchised adults,” Jones said. “We’re celebrating. Overall, this is pretty special.”
Adult schools provide free or low-cost classes to Californians who are too old for K-12 schools but not academically prepared for community college, or who don’t qualify for skilled jobs. They serve immigrants, the unemployed, disabled adults, high-school dropouts and ex-offenders reentering society.
“I never dreamed I would see dedicated funding for disenfranchised adults,” said Debra Jones, dean of career education practices at the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. “We’re celebrating. Overall, this is pretty special.”
Without dedicated funding for the next year, adult school administrators and teachers were concerned that their schools would close as districts focused their funds on K-12 students. They were also worried that the newly formed consortia – 70 statewide – which have been meeting for about a year, were not yet ready to fully function.
“For the first time in decades, community colleges, county offices of education and school districts have been having meaningful conversations about what adult programs should look like,” said former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, who was head of the Assembly Education Committee until the current legislative session began. “We need to build on the work that has been done and then have a thoughtful implementation process to really deliver an effective program.”
The Department of Finance does not know exactly how much of the $500 million will go to preserve current programs, though estimates by adult school providers put the figure at around $300 million. The remaining $200 million or so funds will be given to the consortia to be used for programs and support services, such as child care or career counseling. Only 5 percent can be used for administration.
One issue the consortia will have to grapple with is limited funding to meet the needs of adult learners throughout the state, Jones said. Before the recession, K-12 adult schools were getting $723 million in state funding, she said. In addition, many areas of the state, particularly rural counties, had never had K-12 adult ed programs. The 70 consortia now cover the entire state.
Jones said the Department of Finance made no promises regarding funding beyond the 2015-16 school year. But, she said, finance officials did say it probably would not be less than $500 million in the future.
In his budget, Gov. Brown states that state-funded adult education programs should include basic reading, writing, math, and other elementary and high school classes. They should also include citizenship and English as a second language classes, he said. In addition, adult ed should provide programs for adults with disabilities, apprenticeship programs and short-term, career-technical classes that provide skills in high demand, he said.
Former adult ed priorities under state law, such as older adult programs and parent education, will not receive direct state funding. Supporters have argued that parent education programs are key to involving parents in their children’s education. Under the Local Control Funding Formula, the new state funding system for schools, districts must meet eight priorities, one of which is parent involvement. Supporters of older adult programs say that as baby boomers retire, the need for programs to keep seniors active and mentally alert will grow.
The 2015-16 budget also lays out how the consortia are expected to work. The chancellor of the community colleges and the state superintendent of public instruction will jointly allocate funds among the 70 consortia. In an information session with Department of Finance officials, Jones was told the funds will be distributed based on existing programs, unmet need and performance. More funding is supposed to be channeled to the areas with the greatest needs, echoing the priorities under the Local Control Funding Formula, which gives districts more funds based on the percentages of English learners, low-income students and foster students they serve.
“As with the LCFF for children, allocating more money to areas where there is more need is an excellent idea that has the potential to promote an educational system that is more fair and provides students who stand at a disadvantage with more opportunities to succeed,” said Kristen Pursley, an adult ed teacher with West Contra Costa Adult Education, in a blog about the governor’s plan.
Each consortium will form an allocation committee consisting of seven members – one each from community colleges, K-12 districts, other adult education providers, local workforce investment boards, county social services departments, correctional rehabilitation programs and one public member with relevant expertise. These committees will develop education plans for their consortia and determine which programs will be funded.
Each year, the allocation committees will send a report to the chancellor and state superintendent describing how well they have met the goals in their plans.
Developing an entire new structure and working together to determine which organizations will provide various classes creates a lot of challenges, said Karen Arthur, an Oxnard Adult School teacher. “The allocation committees have a heck of a lot of power.”
Pursley said the proposal leaves a lot of questions unanswered, and its success will depend a lot on the committee members and how well they work together.
The consortia approach is likely to function better, educators say, if communities have worked well together in the past. San Mateo Adult School, for example, has had several years of experience collaborating with community partners through ALLIES, a coalition of community colleges, adult schools and community-based organizations in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. Supported by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and with the help of a federal Workforce Innovation grant, the initiative began in 2011 to help the area’s immigrants get the education and support services they needed to find well-paid jobs and careers.
“In some consortia, there is more overlap and more tension between community colleges and adult schools,” said Tim Doyle, assistant director of the San Mateo Adult School. “Here there is much more coordination. The local community college doesn’t do much of what we do.”
Daniel Pec is a 28-year-old immigrant from Guatemala who attends San Mateo Adult School. He said even though both San Mateo College and the adult school offer ESL classes, the focus of the two programs is different. Pec is trained in computer science and expects to eventually go to college, but for now he needs to learn English and support his family.
“The community college is very expensive, and it is more book English,” Pec said, adding that he likes the adult school because he has a chance to practice the language, which has helped him in his job at a restaurant.
Jones said the goal is to align the work that adult schools and community colleges are doing to improve access for all students. For example, a student might learn medical transcription at an adult school and then take a medical technology class at a community college. Or in Pec’s case, after learning conversational English in adult school, he might go on to learn “book English” at the local community college.
“We need better pathways,” Jones said. “When people exit one program, they should be adequately prepared when they get to the next one.”
Pursley said that there are many things left to be decided, but adult schools can now “breathe a sigh of relief.”
“There is money for us, and a system is being put into place for ongoing funding,” she said. “Adult schools have a future, and it’s going to be interesting, to say the least.”