Special Meeting of the West Contra Costa Board of Education February 23

The West Contra Costa Board of Education has called a special meeting for this coming Wednesday, February 23, at 6:30 pm.  The meeting will be held at LoVonya DeJean Middle School, 3400 MacDonald Ave., Richmond.  This meeting will be concerned with the budget only, particularly with how the district will deal with the “worst case scenario” which will result if the legislature does not accept Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed cuts to non-K-12 education programs and the voters refuse to extend several taxes.  Supporters of adult education are strongly encouraged to come to this meeting.

At this meeting, the board will ask the public for suggestions about how to save money. Below are some arguments Communities Organized to Support Adult School (COSAS) has been making about why the district should not take all of adult education’s money.  We may need to repeat some of these arguments at the meeting.  Please feel free to add arguments of your own. 

The district has already taken 60% of adult education’s funding and swept its reserve.  There is only $2 million in adult education funds left for the district to take. The deficit that would occur if the “worst case scenario” comes to pass would be much bigger than that. Taking all of adult education’s money would destroy an important institution upon which many people depend, without solving the district’s financial problem.

Arguments in favor of adult education follow:

Immigrants and their Children

The choice between keeping adult education and helping children in the K-12 schools is a false choice.  Closure of the Adult  Education 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.  45 % 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 between  2,000 and 3,500 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.

Vocational Education

It doesn’t matter how beautifully you prepare children to succeed in the world of work if you have destroyed their community’s ability to create employment for them.  Adult education is an engine of economic growth, providing short-term, low cost job training and re-training as well as providing students with the skills they need to start and run a small business.  The current adult education  catalog, offers  14 trades classes, including a free course offering retraining to laid off construction workers.  These classes range from 12 hours to 14 weeks in duration.  Four of these classes are offered in Spanish-language versions, adapting to the make-up of our community. These are just some examples of the vital, practical workplace preparation that adult education provides.  If you shut adult education down, you deprive the economically distressed Richmond/San Pablo area of a resource it needs to recover from the economic downturn.

Children don’t exist in a vacuum.  They need families and communities to grow.  If you deprive parents of the resources they need to become literate, to train and retrain for better jobs, and to support their families, you have stopped supporting children.  If you remove a resource that supports the financial health of the community where children live, and where they will enter the workforce when they are ready, you have stopped supporting children, no matter how good your classrooms look.   

Young Adults

Shutting down adult education, does not make sense as a strategy for helping our young people. As any parent will tell you, concern for the welfare of children does not end when they reach the age of 18.  Many of the students who use adult education are still quite young, especially those that use the high school diploma program.  An 18 year old is only one year older than the high school senior we are all so proud of or concerned about.  Washing our hands of people once they reach the magic age of 18 makes sense from an accounting point of view, perhaps, because it’s good to get people off your books, but it makes no sense if you see your mission as promoting the welfare of young people.  An 18-year-old is still too young to legally drink alcohol in California, but by shutting down adult education, we are telling our young people that they had better be finished with learning by the time they reach that age unless they have the skills, inclination and money  to go on to community college.

  Older Adults

Adult education Older Adult programs are currently vulnerable, because they are seen as having nothing to do with the K-12 school system, even though many of the seniors that use WCCAE’s Older Adult program are retired teachers, many volunteer in the schools, and WCCUSD high school students gain valuable life and work experience volunteering with the older adults.  If this is not reason enough to support the Older Adult program, we have to consider this.  Back when the adult school was receiving ADA from the state (and this ended only in 2008), the Older Adult program was a tremendous source of money from ADA, second only to the English as a Second Language program.  Now we are in a kind of “special period” that will end in 2013, and during this period the adult school does not receive money for the hours students spend in class.  But the school district does receive a portion of money based on what adult education ADA was in 2008, much of which was earned by the Older Adult program.  For the district to continue to take that money while cancelling the older adult program is to eagerly include a group of people when they are useful to you, then toss them aside the minute they are not useful.  California law, as it now stands, allows this, to be sure, but is this the kind of people we want to be?  Children don’t only learn in the classroom.  They learn by example.  What are we teaching them by treating our elders like this, and do we want to live in a society where we teach children to behave in this way?

Historical Overview

If West Contra Costa Unified School District chooses to close or more deeply slash its adult education program in order to save money, it will follow a sorry and shameful example that is unfortunately being followed in California and in the nation: it will seek to balance its budget on the backs of the poor.  This is even more shameful when, by the district’s own data, more than 60% of the children served by the district come from poor families.  This is an ethical issue.

We need to look at this situation with some historical perspective. Adult education in California is more than 150 years old.  It has survived many economic ups and downs.  Adult education in California survived the Great Depression of the 1930s; are things really worse now than they were then?  And Richmond played a key role in defeating fascism in World War II.  Hitler has to have been scarier than anything we face now.  One of the symbols of Richmond is Rosie the Riveter, a woman who had to learn new skills in adulthood and went on to help save democracy. Some of the Rosies are still with us, and they need their Older Adult classes. Rosie is famous for her “We can do it” attitude.  We need to follow her determined and resourceful example, and commit ourselves to saving adult education and public education in California.


One Response

  1. Magnificent!

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