Bill would increase funding for adult education by $250 million

April 29, 2016

Hessam Ghajar, a recent immigrant from Iran, practices English with classmates in a San Mateo Adult School class.

State legislators are considering a bill that would boost funding for adult education by $250 million – reinstating funds that were diverted to K-12 schools during the recession, causing many adult programs to close or cut back the number of classes they offered.

“Every time I go back to my district, families ask when are the adult schools coming back, especially the English as a Second Language programs in local schools,” said Assemblywoman Patty Lopez, D-San Fernando, who has introduced Assembly Bill 1846 to increase funding. “There are 16,000 people on waiting lists for adult classes just in Los Angeles.”

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 re-entering society.

The state currently allocates $500 million a year to adult education in a block grant to local consortia made up of districts and community colleges, which both offer adult education programs. The consortia were created in 2013-14 to streamline programs and reduce duplication of efforts.

The proposed budget for 2016-17 continues the $500 million for the adult education block grant. H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the state Department of Finance, said the department has not analyzed AB 1846 and at this point has not changed its recommendation.

But a joint report by the California Department of Education and the California Community Colleges supports the need to reinstate funding, saying that adult schools are serving 800,000 fewer students today than before the recession.

California must “restore and expand adult education program offerings across the state, and reinstate dedicated adequate funding for adult education programs,” according to a recommendation in the March 2015 report titled “Adult Education Regional Planning.”

Debra Jones, dean of workforce and economic development at the California Community Colleges, said the chancellor’s office has not taken a position on the bill.

“The need for more funding is huge,” Jones said, “but the consortia have been operating for only a year, and some of them would be better able to make use of the money than others.”

Jones said there are also some unresolved issues – such as teacher requirements and fees for classes – that might make legislators and the governor hesitant to support an increase in funding for 2016-17.

Currently, for-credit community college courses, such as some technology or business courses, require instructors to have a master’s degree. Others, such as English as a Second Language or basic vocational classes, require only a bachelor’s degree. School districts, on the other hand, require teachers to have an adult education credential, which includes courses beyond a bachelor’s degree but short of a master’s degree.

The Community Colleges Academic Senate and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing are expected to release their recommendations regarding teacher requirements in July.

Jones said there has been less movement on synchronizing a fee schedule. College credit courses are set at $46 a unit statewide, she said, and noncredit courses have no fees, other than for parking or books. Some district adult education programs are free, and others charge fees.

In addition, she said, lawmakers “want to see outcomes. Are students getting jobs? Are they getting certificates? Are they transitioning to community college or four-year universities?” A report on student achievement will be issued in the fall, Jones said.

In the meantime, advocates have created the Adult Education Task Force and have initiated a letter-writing campaign to legislators, saying the need is too great to wait another year.

“Adult ed is woefully underfunded,” said John Mears, co-founder with Lopez of the task force. “In my view, the $250 million is just the tip of the iceberg of what we really need. One of the best things about adult ed is that almost anyone can get an education and get a chance.”

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