Request Amendment to AB 189

AB 189, a bill regarding education funding authored by Assemblyperson Michael Eng, is currently working its way through the California legislature.  On Wednesday of this week (June 22) a senate committee will be reading this bill.  Senator Loni Hancock will be on the committee. Senator Hancock represents the cities of Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Castro Valley, El Sobrante, Emeryville, Livermore, Oakland, Piedmont, Richmond and San Pablo. If you live in Senator Hancock’s district, you have a chance to ask her  to suggest that AB 189 be amended to strike a provision that would change California law to allow districts to charge for adult English as a Second Language and Citizenship classes.

Currently, California law requires that  adult school English as a Second Language and Citizenship classes be offered free; this requirement has a long tradition in California.  Interestingly, AB 189 would originally have changed the law with no sunset date, so districts would have been able to charge fees for these classes forever if the law had passed as written.  As the bill went through the assembly, it was amended so that districts could only charge until 2015.  By amending the bill in this way, the assembly acknowledged the value of offering these classes free of charge.  However, they made the somewhat illogical decision to charge low-income people for a much needed service in hard times, with the promise of restoring  the free service when times will supposedly get better (in 2015).  We have the chance to ask them to do the right thing and keep these services free during the current times that are so rough, especially for low-income people.

AB 189 originally would have provided a reasonable level of protection for adult education funding, but the bill has been heavily amended so that the only protection itl now provides is a requirement that the governing body of a district discuss plans to redirect adult education funding at a  meeting separate from the meeting at which it adopts a budget.  Still, this is something, and the bill should be supported if it  can be amended to strike the provision that districts be allowed to charge. 

You can contact Senator Hancock through her website  at http://dist09.casen.govoffice.com/.   Wording for a sample email appears below;  please feel free to use it as a model, making changes as needed.   To clarify some terms in the text: Tier III flexibility is the least protected tier.  Money in this tier can be freely used by school districts for other purposes (the current situation of adult education funding).  Tier I is the most protected tier.

Sample message:

RE: AB 189

Dear Senator Hancock:

I respectfully request that  AB 189 be amended to strike the provision allowing districts to charge for adult English as a Second Language and Citizenship classes. Low income communities in the East Bay, such as Richmond and Oakland, have been hard hit by unemployment and home foreclosures, and the immigrant community here has been hit harder than most.  Immigrants who lose their jobs take ESL classes to improve their employability so they can find work again. Charges for ESL classes would be another blow to this hard pressed population. 

California has wisely understood that it is a public good for immigrants to have a chance to learn English regardless of ability to pay, and has  a proud history of mandating that English classes for foreigners must be offered free of charge. AB 189 as it stands would end this legacy.  In the end, this would impede the state’s economic recovery by denying some of the state’s most vulnerable residents access to a service they need to get ahead.

The limited protections  AB 189 provide for adult education do have some value, and I support the bill with an amendment striking the section allowing for charges for ESL and Citizenship classes. However,adult education is an important service for Californians and deserves more protection than AB 189 affords.  Adult education should be removed from Tier III of flexibility and placed in tier I.

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