Adult School Money Was Earned

This week the legislature continues to work out the details of adult school funding as part of this year’s state budget.  There are three plans that need to be reconciled: the Governor’s May Revise, the senate plan, and the assembly plan.  All three plans propose $635 million in adult education funding, though the delivery system and timelines proposed are different.  The governor’s plan proposes that school districts be able to fully flex the money for two more years; at the end of two years, adult schools would be funded through consortia of school districts and community colleges. The senate plan follows the governor’s plan.  The assembly plan allows districts to flex adult school funds for one more year, but only in the amount they flexed the funds for the 2013-2014 school year.

As legislators decide the fate of adult schools, it is to be hoped that they will remember what the $635 million is based on.  It is the amount districts which have, or used to have, adult schools have been receiving as a block grant since 2009. The block grant amount is not an arbitrary number; it is the amount adult schools earned in the previous year, 2007-2008.  That means it is based on two things: the hard work of some of California’s most poorly compensated teachers, and the educational needs of some of California’s most vulnerable adults.

Before 2009, adult schools, like K-12 schools, received funding based on attendance, known as Average Daily Attendance, or ADA.  Unlike K-12 schools, adult schools don’t have a captive audience.  That means adult schools had to offer something that was of value to their adult students, or they would have closed down.  If adults don’t find a program valuable, they walk away.

Adult school teachers work hard to make sure adult school programs work for their students.  They are the ones who make sure the classes are useful for their students so the students  keep coming back.  In the generally undercompensated teaching profession, adult school teachers are paid even less than K-12 teachers.  They are also paid less than non-credit community college teachers, even though, unlike non-credit community college teachers, they have to earn an adult school credential on top of their Bachelor of Arts degree.  On top of the lower pay they receive, most adult school teachers in California are enforced part-time workers.  They are not allowed to work more than half-time.  Many do not have any benefits, or if they are lucky, they have pro-rated benefits.  Many adult school teachers cobble together two or three jobs in different districts in order to survive, and often none of these jobs gives them any health insurance or vacation days.

Adult school teachers are not in it for the money, obviously.  They are, as a group, idealistic, committed, and dedicated to their students.  Their working conditions can be trying; they might be teaching in a church basement with the most rudimentary equipment.  But they spend many hours beyond the teaching hours they are paid for preparing classes, staying current in the field, and, often, helping their students with issues in their personal lives so those students can succeed.  It is for those teachers students come to class.  Those teachers earned the $635 million that has been handed over to districts as a flexible block grant since 2009.

Adult school students in state funded programs such as High School Diploma, GED, Adult Basic Education, English as a Second Language, Older Adult, Adults with Disabilities and Parent Education programs are some of California’s most vulnerable adults.  The state mandated free adult education programs for these adults because they tend to be low income and would be shut out of a program that charged fees.   Adult school students tend to be the marginalized: young people who did not do well in school and dropped out, immigrants, seniors and people with disabilities.  They come to adult school classes because they have educational needs, and because school can make their lives better.  There was a cap on adult school ADA in 2007-2008, so the number of students in adult education classes at that time (and now) represents only a fraction of the adults that needed services then and need services now. But it is the educational needs of this student population that created the $635 million that has been awarded to school districts and flexed since 2009.

There has always been a bit of an Alice in Wonderland strangeness to the flexibility of adult school funds, especially when one thinks of those districts that closed their adult schools altogether.  How long, one had to wonder, would the state keep paying them not to have an adult school?  Since not all districts have or had adult schools, is it fair to districts that never had an adult school that districts that used to have an adult school have more money to play with?  While adult schools became something of a phantom in some districts, it is worth remembering that the money for adult school programs is based on something quite real: the hard work of some of the most undercompensated teachers in California, and the educational need of some of the state’s most vulnerable adults. Let’s hope our legislators and governor remember that.

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