Effects of Elimination of Adult Education in West County — Based on a Presentation to the Board of the West Contra Costa League of Women Voters

This post is based on a presentation given by Communities Organized to Support Adult School (COSAS) to the Board of the West Contra Costa League of Women Voters.  After the presentation, the board voted to take preliminary steps, such as researching other League positions that might have a bearing on adult education, to see if it would be appropriate to make adult education an issue of study for the League.  This process would include finding out if the other school district which is within the jurisdiction of the West County League, John Swett, has an adult school and whether the elimination of adult education is an issue there.  The League will seek to learn about possible effects of further cuts to adult school from all sides, including, of course, the position of West Contra Costa Unified School District WCCUSD), possibly in the format of a forum.

One League member, Pat Player, who is a former member of the West Contra Costa Board of Education, suggested that COSAS look at minutes from Board of Education meetings for the 2002-2003 school year, because the Alvarado Adult School was renovated with money from the adult school reserves while the building remained under the control of the district.  Ms. Player remembered that this was done with the agreement that adult school reserves would thenceforth remain under the control of the adult school, and said that the minutes should reflect that.

The presentation follows:

Structure of Adult Education in California.

California has had adult education for almost as long as it has been a state.  Adult Education in California is over 150 years old.

Current Structure:  There are two kinds of programs

  1. There are mandated programs, which are mandated by state law to be offered free:  English as a Second Language, Adult Basic Education, High School Diploma, GED, Older Adults, Adults with Disabilities – all of these programs serve vulnerable and at-risk populations, which is probably why they were mandated to be offered at no charge.  These programs are part of public education, and, until recently were funded like other public education, with state money based on attendance (ADA), although adult education is held to a higher standard in reporting attendance than either K-12 schools or community colleges (attendance reported hourly).
  2. The other adult education program is made up of fee based/community interest classes:   This is the more well known program, consisting of a wide variety of classes offered for a low fee.  Some courses more recreational in nature, but many vocational training classes, typically of shorter duration and less costly than community college classes, are part of this program.   While fee based classes are funded by student fees, their fate is uncertain  if all money for adult school is taken by the district.

Current Financial Situation of Adult Education in West County:

Even when the West Contra Costa Unified School District went through bankruptcy and receivership in the early 1990s, West Contra Costa Adult Education (WCCAE) was solvent and had a reserve, because it had its own funding stream based on student attendance which the district could not touch.

As part of the 2008-2009 state budget “fix”, the legislature temporarily suspended the laws regarding adult education and allowed school districts “flexibility” to spend some or all of adult education money on other programs.  There is a tiered system for flexibility, and adult education was put into Tier III, which means maximum flexibility for the district in taking adult education money.

At the same time, adult education stopped receiving money based on year to year attendance.  Instead, the district receives a block grant based on 2008-2009 attendance and other state money the adult school was receiving in the 2008-2009 school year. 

The suspension of the laws regarding adult education funding put the fate of adult education programs into the hands of individual districts, and districts reacted very differently.  A few districts, mostly small, rural districts, did away with their adult education programs altogether, while other districts left their adult education programs virtually untouched.  Some districts slashed their adult education programs severely; WCCUSD followed this model.   In 2008-2009, WCCAE had an operating budget of $5 million and a reserve of $2 million.  The district took the entire $2 million reserve and gradually took $3 million from the operating budget so that today the adult school operates on a budget of  $2 million in state money and about another  $.5 million in federal money (which the district cannot take). As a result, services have been cut by 50%. This affected the mandated programs, which serve the most vulnerable populations, most severely. 

Mandated programs had their hours of instruction cut by 50%  (from 17.5 hours/week to 9 hours /week) during the school year:

ESL: Studies  of ESL instruction show that programs offering  12 to 20 hours of instruction per week are most effective.*  Adult ESL classes  in West County were cut from an effective 12 to 17 hours/week to a less effective  9 hours a week or less.

*Condelli, Larry, Heide Spruck Wrigley, Kwang Yoon, Stephanie Cronen and Mary Seburn, 2006. “What Works” Study for Adult Literacy ESL Students. Washington, D.C.: American Institutes for Research

Adults with Disabilities:  Sheltered workplace programs and the National Institute for Art and Disabilities (NIAD) program lost prep time.  At NIAD, this meant no time for set up and clean up for art activities.  In the sheltered workplace programs, it meant that teachers lacked the resources to deal with student behavioral issues, and quality of work began to suffer.

In addition, summer school was eliminated for all mandated programs:

  • High School Diploma students scheduled to graduate during the summer had to wait three more months to graduate.
  • English as a Second Language students lost ground with no opportunity to practice over a three-month period.
  • Senior centers, whose directors are adult education teachers paid through the adult school, had to scramble to find other funding to keep their doors open over the summer.

The current funding structure is in place until 2013. It is uncertain what will happen after that; there is no guarantee that we will return to the former situation.

Possible Elimination of Adult Education in West Contra Costa

By 2013, there may be no adult education program in West Contra Costa. The district has repeatedly floated the idea of eliminating it, but the idea has proved unpopular, and the district has so far maintained the program at its severely reduced level.  However, the failure of Measure M now puts adult education in jeopardy once again.  The district must now deal with a $14 million budget gap without the relief that an additional parcel tax would have provided.  The Board of Education will be under pressure from the district to close the adult education program and take the remaining money.  As a result of the bankruptcy and receivership of the early 1990s, the district is still under the direction of a state trustee, and she continually writes letters to the Board of Education reminding them that they can take all of adult education’s money.

The following would be  just some of the effects s of eliminating adult education in West County:

High School Diploma:  In a district with a 21.3% dropout rate, there would be no second chance at a high school diploma for people over the age of 18.

Closure of the Adult  English as a Second Language program would deprive  the parents of the majority of the children in the WCCUSD system of  the single most important resource they have for helping their children succeed in school.

Richmond and San Pablo are now majority immigrant cities, and demographic information from the WCCUSD  website indicates the majority of the children in district schools are immigrant and poor.  46.2% of children in the district are Latino and about  10% are Asian/Pacific Islanders.  About   of 1/3 of the children are English language learners and 64.5% are eligible for  free or reduced price meals.

Research has established that parent literacy is one of the single most important indicators of a child’s success in school. (National Assessment of Educational Progress)

The WCCAE ESL program provides the literacy training immigrant parents need to help their children.  All the ESL classes are located in the Richmond/ San Pablo area in low-income neighborhoods, and many are  held at Title I schools, so that mothers can attend classes while their children are in school.

 The WCCAE  ESL department serves over 3,000 students per year.  If adult school ESL classes close, the community college, which has also had its funding cut, cannot pick up the slack.  Contra Costa College is currently referring students to the adult school.

Even if the community college could provide more classes, the adult school model works better for many English language learners, particularly those with little or no English ability and little education in the home country.

Citizenship:  An estimated 15,000 immigrants who are eligible to become naturalized U.S. citizen live in
West Contra Costa County.     (Integration Potential of California’s Immigrants and their Children study by Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, 2008)  If the adult school closes, there will be no classes to help them pass the naturalization test. Berkeley has already closed its Citizenship classes and refers students to the WCCAE Citizenship classes.

Adults with Disabilities: Some students in the sheltered workplace programs already eat in soup kitchens.  Should the adult school close, these students would be unable to keep their jobs and care for themselves.  Their behavioral problems would go unaddressed and become a problem for the community.

Older Adult:  This program is more jeopardized than any of the others, and even if the adult school does survive, the older adult program may not.  The district has defined a “core program” for adult education which it has said (with reservations) that it will try to save.  This “core program” does not include Older Adult (and originally did not include Adults with Disabilities – it is rather vague whether Adults with Disabilities is included now).  Adult education has  programs at the following senior centers:  First Presbyterian in Richmond, St. Callistus in El Sobrante, Christ Lutheran in El Cerrito, Kensington/Arlington in Kensington, St. John’s in El Cerrito, El Cerrito Open House in El Cerrito, and Richmond Senior Care in Richmond.  At some of these centers, the directors are adult school teachers who are paid through the adult school.  Last year, the centers whose directors are adult school teachers almost closed down because of the first round of cuts, and if the adult school is eliminated, some of them probably will close.

Closing Older Adult programs is one of the many “penny wise and pound foolish” types of solutions that have come out of the state budget crisis.  The Senior Centers provide social support and mental stimulation for seniors, keeping  them out of nursing homes longer. Nursing home care for these elders would ultimately be much more expensive for the state.  With support from the senior centers, elders stay in their community and give back by volunteering

Women and People of Color Would be Disproportionately Affected if Adult Education Closes Down

WCCAE demographics figures from 2008-2009 indicate that Latinos represent over 90% of ESL students, and a majority of GED students (53.15%) are also Latino.

Of those students who identified their race at the time of registration, African Americans use the Career Technical Education, High School Diploma and Parent Education programs at a higher rate than other groups.

Almost 60% of ESL students are women, over 50% of GED students are women, and 78% of Older Adult students are women.


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