A Row of Teacups

An adult school teacher in our program retired this year. Her subject was English as a Second Language. She had certainly earned a peaceful retirement after a long and distinguished career, but I can’t help wondering if   she might have stayed  a little longer if adult school had not become such a tense place to work over the past eight years.  Adult schools have been chronically underfunded since  the Great Recession of 2008; for some reason, the state decided not to restore their funding when funding for other branches of education was restored and even increased. In addition to the constant lack of money, adult schools now are increasingly threatened by the demands of charter schools for space. Through the attendant cuts and displacements, adult school teachers have struggled to hold it together for their students.  I guess she just got tired. She won’t be easy to replace, as adult schools, like all other schools in the U.S. are struggling with a teacher shortage.

Like most adult school teachers, she is diligent, conscientious and self-sacrificing. After her last day of teaching, she spent several unpaid days cleaning out her classroom to make sure it would be nice for the next teacher.  As she was cleaning up, she came by the English as a Second Language office and asked if we could use her break time supplies. On her last day of cleaning, she left them with us.

So now we have them, a row of teacups.  Carefully cleaned, bright and shiny, and lovingly arranged on a tray, the form a stark contrast to their surroundings.  The corridors of our building are piled high with ancient office equipment and school supplies, surrounded by yellow caution tape. The piles have been there for months, because the adult school has had to move out of half of our main building to make way for a new program the district needed to start.  Because charter schools have taken all other available space, there was nowhere else for the district to put it.  Next year the adult school will have to move out completely as the new program grows. We will move to the adult school’s one remaining building, which is located across town and far away from the communities that need the adult school most,  unless a charter school has taken that building as well. School board members and district personnel alike have repeatedly told us that this may happen, and that we have to be prepared for the adult school to be completely decentralized in the future.

The ESL office, where we had to struggle to find space for the teacups, is also in disarray. It has been that way for two years, since we had to move from the other building (yes, the one we may be moving back to, if it is still there), again because another district program was displaced by a charter and the district needed our space.   Because the adult school budget is so tight, there was no money to help us organize our new space or modify it so we could organize all the books and materials we had to bring from our former, much larger, space.  We are still mostly in boxes, and the few items we were able to put into storage spaces in our current building have now also been moved into our office, as the new program took over all of the space that was being used for storage.  The office supports 35 ESL classes and about 26 teachers.  It isn’t easy for them to locate the materials they need for their classes.

Whenever I see the row of teacups, I am reminded that I work in an environment where anything that is orderly feels strangely out of place. I know the importance of those teacups and why they are so well taken care of.  With these cups, the students shared the tasks of preparing and serving each other refreshments.  They drank from these cups as they tried to socialize in their new language and worked at forging connections among their different cultures and customs. With these cups, they created community.  This community is the heart and soul of any successful ESL class; it is as important as good teaching and good curriculum.

Tomorrow is the first day of school.  Teachers have been coming into the ESL office on their own time for the last two weeks, getting ready.  Somehow, they will find the supplies they need in our jumble of an office.  They will go into their classrooms and somehow leave behind the chronic scarcity, the chaos, and the uncertainty about the future. They will create an orderly and inviting place for their students to learn and become a community of learners.   I don’t know how long they will be able to do this, but, given their determination, it will probably be right up until the last door closes on the last adult school class in the state of California.

Advertisements

Advocating for Adult Schools: Ideas from California Council for Adult Education

California Council for Adult Education has issued a call to action for adult school advocates.  Their most recent Legislative Update speaks of “rising tensions” in Sacramento because adult schools are having trouble documenting their successes and some of the consortia have not spent all their money.  Legislators don’t seem to be taking into account that the eight year freeze on adult school funding is hurting adult schools, making it difficult for them to devote resources to collecting the data the legislature demands while continuing to serve their students. The legislature also needs to be held accountable for failing to fix the wildly unequal situation adult schools found themselves in at the end of the recession.  Comparing consortia with vastly different resources to each other is unfair and irresponsible.  Why isn’t the situation of Sweetwater Adult School, which will serve 1,000  fewer students this year due to budget restraints, considered an important piece of data?  It’s the most important datum of all.  Legislators need to look up from their spread sheets and take a good, hard look at what they have done to adult schools. It’s right in front of their faces. They need to hear from adult school students, teachers and advocates.  A link to the CCAE update, with suggestions for action, is here: https://www.ccaestate.org/legislative-news/

 

An Article that Gets it Right about Adult Schools: Flat Funding Is a Disaster for Sweetwater Adult Education and All California Adult Schools

The following article about drastic cuts at Sweetwater Adult School accurately describes a funding crisis that affects all California adult schools. “Flat state funding” that has been “frozen at recession era levels”, as described in the article, is the problem, and, as the director of Sweetwater explains in the article, the flat funding actually functions as a cut that gets worse every year. Considering that adult school funding fell precipitously from 2009 to 2013, and then froze at 2013 levels, all adult schools are struggling to pay the bills as costs rise and their funding stays the same. If something is not done soon, there may be many Sweetwaters.

Note that Sweetwater is having to cut its classes by 10% even though its district, Sweetwater Union High School District, is devoting some funding to the adult school. Without the district’s assistance, the adult school program would have to be cut by 25%. Not all districts are willing to devote some of their funding to help out their adult schools. The Board of Education at the adult school where I teach, West Contra Costa Unified, has voted not to give the adult school any money to supplement the inadequate state funding the adult school receives.

This needs to be an election issue in California. The governor and the legislature broke adult schools, and only they can fix it. There is an election coming up next year. Find out what your representative’s position on adult schools is. Let your representatives know you care about it, and that the status quo is not working. Ask about it at candidates’ forums. Find out what gubernatorial candidates think about adult education. Write letters and make phone calls letting your representatives know that what is happening at Sweetwater is unacceptable, and that it is up to them to make sure this doesn’t happen to more adult schools.

Thanks to KPBS news for a great article, which you can read here:

http://www.kpbs.org/news/2017/jun/26/slow-strangulation-adult-ed-will-mean-1000-fewer-s/

 

‘Slow Strangulation’ Of Adult Ed Will Mean 1,000 Fewer Students For Sweetwater

Monday, June 26, 2017

By Megan Burks

Photo by Matthew Bowler / KPBS

Above: Students practice checking one another’s blood pressure in a career-technical class at San Ysidro Adult School, part of Sweetwater Adult Education, April 27, 2017.

The Sweetwater Union High School District is expected to approve its budget of more than $450 million Monday. The district has largely averted cuts, but its adult program will have to serve a thousand fewer students next year.

Sweetwater Adult School is cutting its classes by 10 percent. They include parenting, English-language, citizenship and career-technical courses. The budget gap reflects years of flat state funding for adult education and rising pension costs.

“It’s like a slow strangulation of the program,” Sweetwater Adult Education Director Ryan Burke said. “Everything costs more, so one by one we’re having to cut classes to pay the bills.”

RELATED: Proposed Rule Change For Adult ESL Classes Could Impact Children

Sweetwater Union has used its general fund to backfill some of the need, and is expected to do the same next year. Burke said without the district’s help, a quarter of classes would have to go.

“Yes the district is able to help and they are helping. But they’re also responsible for paying for (middle and high school) education,” Burke said. “Any dollar they commit to us is another dollar they don’t have for 7-12.”

Adult education funding has been frozen at recession-era levels as the legislature and schools work to restructure the system, which developed as a patchwork across K-12 districts and community colleges. Advocates like Burke say it is time to look at funding again.

“The Division of Adult Education provides a safety net to families who need a GED or need to improve their English skills to get their first job or look for a better job,” said teacher Erica Dibello-Hitta. “They also offer short-term career classes that are much more affordable than those at private colleges. A loss of any classes would hurt our community.”

Federal funding makes up a much smaller portion of adult school funding but could also be in jeopardy. President Donald Trump has said he’d like to cut career-technical education by $168 million. The House this week passed a generous reauthorization bill for career-technical education spending. It’s unclear if it will pass the Senate, or if the president would sign it.

Why Haven’t the AEBG Consortia Spent All Their Money?

While California’s adult schools have been severely underfunded since 2008, apparently some of the Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG) Consortia  have not spent all their money from 2015-2016.  So Sacramento’s answer to requests for  a badly needed funding increase for adult schools is now, “How can adult schools need more money when the consortia haven’t even spent the money they have?”

It’s a good question. So why haven’t the consortia spent all their money?

There are 5 million adults in California who need basic literacy services, and adult schools and community colleges together have only been able to serve about 1.5 million of these adults in the best of times.  So I don’t know why the consortia haven’t spent all their money.

In 2008, California spent $750 million on its adult schools alone.  Now the state spends $500 million on the AEBG consortia, which are a “collaboration” between adult schools and community colleges, with $350 million earmarked for adult schools.  That’s about half of what adult schools were getting  before the financial crash of 2008.  So I don’t know why the consortia haven’t spent all their money.

Oakland Adult School used to have about five buildings that were exclusively adult school sites and serve about 25,000 students.  Now they have about 15 classes and serve around 1,000 students.  Oakland hasn’t begun to recover from the debacle that was categorical flexibility for adult schools.  So I don’t know why the consortia haven’t spent all their money.

But some consortia (we don’t know how many) have unspent funds (we don’t know how much), and apparently for Sacramento that statistic trumps all the much more devastating statistics above.

This kind of reaction from our elected leaders makes me think of the old poster for the first Alien movie (I realize I’m dating myself) which bore the caption “In space, no one can hear you scream.”

In the consortia, no one can hear adult schools scream. Locked in the consortia, they are voiceless and invisible.  No one in state government wants to hear about adult schools anymore. They only want to hear about “the consortia”.

But adult schools still exist.  We have students, and our students have needs, urgent needs that are not being met.  Their needs are only likely to increase under the new federal regime, which seems hell-bent on enriching the comfortable and pushing everyone else to the margins.

I don’t know why the consortia haven’t spent all their money, but let me hazard some guesses.

  1. The Adult Education Block Grant provides funds to the consortia for two purposes. 1) $350 million is earmarked for adult schools; the portion allotted for each individual adult school is exactly the amount their districts were giving them in 2013, which for most adult schools was much less than they received in 2008; 2) $150 million awarded to the consortia to spend on innovative projects and addressing gaps in service.

I would hazard a guess that the unspent money is part of the $150 million awarded to the consortia, not the $350 million awarded to adult schools to run their programs.  Adult schools have been running on this inadequate $350 million for 5 years now and they need every penny.

Decisions about the $150 million that is not earmarked for individual adult schools rest with the consortia, which consists of all the adult schools and community colleges in a community college district.  My consortium has six adult schools and three community colleges.  Group decisions can certainly get bogged down, especially when the group is this large and the amount of money is relatively inadequate.  This might account for the unspent funds.  Adult schools can get hold of some of this money, but they have to beg, plead, come up with  “innovative” ideas that obligate them to additional expenditures  when what they really need is money to fund the programs they have now, etc.   I don’t think the unspent consortium money is really the fault of adult schools.

Someone should take a hard look at how adult schools are doing within the consortia.  Are they spending all their money, as opposed to “the consortium”?  I would guess that they are.

  1. The fact that the money is not enough may, ironically, be making it hard for the consortia to find ways to spend it. Obviously, the consortium that includes Oakland Adult School could spend every penny it has just to restore Oakland Adult without being able to come close to serving the students Oakland once served.  So they have to look for manageable projects that don’t really address the need, but don’t risk their going over budget.
  2. If some adult schools are failing to spend their whole allotment, it is probably because they are terrified of going over budget.  Before 2008, most adult schools had reserves that could cushion them against unexpected overages, but those reserves were mostly swept during categorical flexibility.  Now adult schools walk a financial tightrope; it’s no wonder if  they are sometimes too conservative in their spending.  Some school districts are sternly warning their adult schools that they had better not do anything that could impinge on district funds.
  3. On the other hand, there are districts that have decided to contribute some of their budget to their adult schools to supplement the AEBG money. This is probably more likely to happen in better-off areas where the district feels it can afford to be generous. Adult schools in more well-to-do areas are also more likely to have come through the period of categorical flexibility relatively unscathed.  So possibly there are some adult schools in prosperous districts that have more money than they know what to do with.  But should their lucky situation mean that all adult schools get no additional money?  One of the most grievous flaws of the consortium system is that it does nothing at all to address the unequal situation adult schools found themselves in at the end of their long ordeal.  Their situation was unequal to begin with, and while most suffered, privileges and disadvantages were exacerbated during the long downward slide.  The consortium system locked the inequalities into place rather than addressing them.  Now the most disadvantaged schools will get no help unless the most fortunate spend all their money.
  4. During the uncertain years from 2008 to 2013, much of the infrastructure that supported adult schools became badly eroded. With the survival of adult schools in doubt, many teachers stopped training for careers as adult educators. Adult school teachers who were laid off due to closures and cutbacks found other work.  The number of credentialing programs for adult school teachers was reduced, and the process of earning a credential became more difficult.  California is facing a shortage of all kinds of teachers right now, and the shortage of adult school teachers is worse.  The consortia may have some great plans to spend their money that they are unable to implement due to a lack of teachers.

All of the above are guesses, but I would venture to say they are educated guesses, based on my 20 years of experience as an adult educator and the experiences of other adult educators I know.  What I hope they show is that our elected officials need to look beyond the facile sound bite about the consortia not having spent all their money to find out what is really going on in the consortia and the adult schools locked inside them.  They need to look beyond the easy excuse to learn about the reality.  And they need to find a way to give adult schools, as opposed to “the consortia” a voice again.  Adult school students and teachers must once again be heard.

I am not against the consortia. The consortia hold out some great possibilities for collaboration between community colleges, adult schools, and other agencies that provide educational services for adults. I have participated in my own consortium with relish, interest, and hope. I have enjoyed meeting and collaborating with other teachers.

But I don’t really want to ask for more money for “the consortia”.  I want to ask for more money for adult schools.  But there is no way to do that now.  I have to ask for more money for the Adult Education Block Grant, with the hope that some of it will reach adult schools.

Adult schools have friends in the California legislature.  There are legislators who have been adult school teachers.  There are legislators who have been adult school students. There are legislators whose family members have benefited from adult school instruction.  We need to reach them and ask them to help us.

We need to keep up the letters to Governor Brown and to our legislators asking that more money be allocated for adult schools through the AEBG.  The fact that some of our elected officials are willing to keep things as they are because “not all of the AEBG money has been spent” is a reason to keep writing, not a reason to stop.  We need to ask our governor to try to understand us better, and ask our legislators to get beyond glib excuses and look for the truth.

Write Governor Brown Now to Request More Funding for Adult Schools

In January, Governor Brown released a proposed 2017-2018 budget that, once again, fails to provide any additional money for California’s adult schools.  The  amount of the Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG), which now provides the only state funding for adult schools, is still $500 million, the same amount that was provided when the block grant was created two years ago.  Of the $500 million provided by the AEBG, only $350 million is earmarked for adult schools.  The state spent $750 million on adult schools before the financial crash of 2008.  If the budget passes with the amount of the AEBG unchanged, 2017-2018 will mark the ninth year that adult schools have gone without an increase in their state funding, which is their largest and most important source of funding.  Of those nine years, 6 were years of cuts and steep declines in funding; since 2013, adult school funding has held the line at the low and deeply inadequate level of funding adult schools reached after the 6 years of cuts.

Now is the time to write to Governor Brown and our state legislators to request a much-needed increase in adult school funding.  Between now and the governor’s May revise of the budget, Sacramento will be engaged in negotiations about what the final budget will be.  We need to let our elected officials know that the current level of funding for adult schools is inadequate and puts the adult education system, and the Californians it serves, at risk.

Understandably, the governor has adopted a very cautious budget to prepare for uncertain times ahead under new federal leadership, an uncertainty made greater by California’s commitment to protect its immigrant population in the face of threatened retaliation by the federal government.  However, adult schools are an important piece of the infrastructure California will need to protect and support its immigrant population through the difficult years ahead.  Since their founding in the mid-nineteenth century, California’s adult schools have had service to the immigrant community as a key part of their mission, and they still provide the bulk of English as a Second Language instruction in the state.  They are gathering places where immigrants find a community, receive support, access services and learn to participate in civic life in the United States.  The immigrants most in need of protection, those without documents, rely on adult schools for educational services, as most of them cannot afford the expensive out-of-state tuition they have to pay at community colleges. To truly support these immigrants, you have to support their education.

Adult schools provide crucial services for other marginalized populations as well, providing basic literacy and a second chance at a high school diploma  for adults who, for whatever reason, were unable to attain those things as children. They offer support for adults with disabilities and seniors.  Adult schools serve all the vulnerable groups of people who will be most hurt by proposed cuts to federal programs.

For this reason, it is vital that adult schools survive.  Because of chronic underfunding for the last eight years, they are vulnerable to being swept away in the financial chaos that may well come.  California should have been providing adult schools with adequate funding when times were good.  Now that we face a challenging future, the state must somehow find the money to protect this valuable resource.

Please write a letter to Governor Brown today and request more funding for adult schools. You can use the template below. Please feel free to adapt the language and be sure to insert any information about your own experience with adult schools and why you think they are valuable.

Don’t forget to send a copy to your legislators; the budget is to a certain extent in their hands now. You can find your state legislators here:

http://www.legislature.ca.gov/legislators_and_districts/legislators/your_legislator.html

Here is a template for a letter:

Governor Jerry Brown
C/O State Capitol,
Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814 

Dear Governor Brown,

I am writing to request that funding for California’s adult schools be increased through an increase in the Adult Education Block Grant for the 2017-2018 year.  California’s adult schools have been underfunded for eight years, and are the only branch of education that did not receive an increase last year. Due to chronic underfunding, adult schools are in danger of being swept away by the next financial crisis. It is crucial that the state assure the survival of this invaluable resource during the uncertain years ahead.

Adult schools serve the vulnerable adults who are most likely to be hurt by many of the proposed changes to federal policy: poor people, immigrants, people with low levels of literacy, the disabled and seniors.  If California is to defend these marginalized people, as it has bravely pledged to do, it must protect the institutions that serve them.  They must be able to participate to the fullest extent in the economic and civic life of the state, in order to be strong themselves and to keep the state strong.  Adult schools are a key resource to help them fulfill their potential.

I respectfully request that the amount of the  Adult Education Block Grant be increased for 2017-2018.

Sincerely,

 

 

 

 

No Increased Funding for Adult Schools: Post from Adult Education Matters

An excellent post from the Adult Education Matters (AEM) blog about the governor’s budget proposal, which includes the actual language from the governor’s ebudget about adult education, appears below.  Note that the section that relates to adult school funding, the section about the Adult Education Block Grant (bolded in the post below) does not even mention adult schools!

 

• Adult Education Block Grant Program — This program coordinates representatives from local educational agencies, community colleges, and other regional education, workforce, and industry partners to promote the educational opportunities offered to students and adult learners. 
Doesn’t the above sound like the Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG) funds community colleges and all sorts of other agencies involved in workforce development?  In reality, only community colleges and adult schools receive funding through the AEBG, and the AEBG is the ONLY source of state funding for adult schools, and also their MAIN source of funding.
Does it sound like Governor Brown is trying to write adult schools out of the picture?  If you don’t like it, please write a him a letter and copy your state senator and assembly member. For more see the AEM post.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2017-18 Brown Budget Proposal: Still No Increase for Adult Education

Information for funding Adult Education is now in the “Investing in California’s Workforce” section of the budget.  In the past, there was information about Adult Education in the K12 and Higher Education sections.

It seems Governor Brown is slowly but surely framing Adult Education as being less about education and more about work.  That’s a nice way to avoid the truth Adult Education is and always has been – for over 150 years – part of the educational system of California.  And while Adult Education includes job skills training, just like people, Adult Education is about more than just work.

No matter what you call it or where you put it in the budget, Adult Education is not seen, treated and funded in the same way all other branches of Public Education are.

It is high time that Adult Education be given the Education Equality that Californians need and deserve.
#EducationEquality4AE now!
Here is the information from Governor Brown’s ebudget about Adult Education:

Community Colleges and Workforce

In 2015‑16, community college vocational education programs served roughly 300,000
full‑time equivalent students, about 27 percent of all community college full‑time
equivalent students. Below are several other community college programs that
strengthen workforce development and foster job creation:
• Strong Workforce Program — The Budget includes $248 million Proposition 98
General Fund for the Strong Workforce Program. This program builds upon federal
Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA) funds and provides
access to more regionally aligned, career technical education and workforce
development programs/courses. It will also strengthen programmatic collaboration
among workforce investment boards, CCCs, local education agencies, and county
human services agency employment and workforce development programs. These
efforts promote greater employment opportunities and earnings potential for
participating students.
• Adult Education Block Grant Program — This program coordinates representatives

from local educational agencies, community colleges, and other regional education,

workforce, and industry partners to promote the educational opportunities offered
to students and adult learners. Through this program, students and adult learners
can access courses to complete their high school diplomas or general education
equivalent, English as a Second Language courses, and pathways courses that
lead to additional career opportunities. The Budget includes $500 million ongoing
Proposition 98 General Fund to support the Adult Education Block Grant Program.
• Apprenticeship Programs — There are over 265 apprenticeship programs sponsored
by local educational agencies, community colleges, and the Labor and Workforce
Development Agency’s (Labor Agency) Employment Training Panel which support
training to approximately 74,000 apprentices. These programs offer interested
Californians a clear pathway to obtain classroom instruction and on‑the‑job training
skills leading to gainful employment, while also providing California businesses with
well‑trained employees. The Budget includes $54.9 million ongoing Proposition 98
General Fund and approximately $13 million Employment Training Fund for
apprenticeship programs.
• Economic and Workforce Development Program — This program provides funding
for targeted investments in economic and workforce development, focusing on
priority and emergent industry sectors, providing short‑term grants to support
industry‑driven regional education and training. The Budget includes $22.9 million

ongoing Proposition 98 General Fund to support this program.

Communities Organized to Support Adult School (COSAS) Meeting Notes for 01/30/2017

Responding to New Federal Immigration Policy (Travel Ban, etc.)

Teachers need to teach students how to contact their U.S. congressional representatives by phone in case they are personally affected by the new immigration policies and need help.   Representatives can sometimes intervene on behalf of constituents who are affected by federal policy.  Here is the link for finding congressional representatives by zip code: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

While we sometimes teach our adult school students how to write to members of congress and other elected officials to influence policy, we need to also teach them that they can reach out to their representatives when they are affected by federal policies.  Representatives sympathetic to immigrants will want to know when people living in their districts are adversely affected by federal policies, and may be able to offer assistance with individual cases.

(The group came up with this recommendation while discussing a newspaper article about a mother whose son was prevented from entering the U.S. because of the travel ban and wrote to President Trump.  While writing the president is not a bad thing, she might have been able to get more immediate help by contacting her representative.)

Other Ideas for Responding to New Federal Policies

How will federal policies affect older people?  There may be cuts to Social Security , Medicare, and other programs older adults rely on. We need to find ways to keep seniors healthier longer.Education is an important way to do that.

Adult school teachers should make contact with their local mosques in order to find ways to support Muslim students.

The Indivisible Guide, by former congressional staffers, is a resource for getting congress to pay attention to citizen concernts: https://www.indivisibleguide.com/

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has excellent resources for addressing issues of racism, xenophobia, and bullying,  including many resources for classroom use through its Teaching Tolerance program: https://www.splcenter.org/

Adult school teachers need to teach students about their rights and about civic engagement.

 

New Meeting Time for COSAS

COSAS will now meet on the second Monday of every month from 4:00 to 5:00 PM. The next meeting will take place on Monday, February 13.