What the Election Results Mean for Adult Education –More Work to Do

Supporters of adult education in the West County area worked hard on  campaigns for education related ballot measures in the runup to the recent election. Communities Organized to Support Adult School (COSAS) teamed up with Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organizing (CCISCO) and a new youth organization, Community Leaders Organizing Undocumented Dreamers (CLOUD) to precinct walk and phone bank for Proposition 30, the state tax measure to support the schools.  Some COSAS members also campaigned for Measure G, the parcel tax to support West County schools. Now that the election is over, the political landscape is altered in a variety of ways. Proposition 30 and Measure G both passed, easing the financial pressure on California schools somewhat. However, adult education remains vulnerable. A review of the election results and what they mean for adult education follows.

Proposition 30, Governor Brown’s Tax Initiative

The passage of Proposition 30, the governor’s tax measure, will hopefully put to rest the idea, which the mainsteam press loved to trot out during the dark days of the budget crisis, that “Californians want services but don’t want to pay for them.” This always made it sound like the entire population of California is made up of the kind of people who will eat a nice meal in a restaurant and walk out without paying the bill.  The actual situation always was that Californians, particularly vulnerable Californians like children, need services, for which the majority of Californians are willing to pay.  The people of California were prevented from paying for services we  knew we and our fellow citizens needed by an extreme law that made it almost impossible to raise taxes and a recalcitrant minority in our legislature. And let’s not forget our muscle-brained former governor, who rejected every possible compromise.  Adult education was a victim of this shameful stalemate; Governor Shwarzenegger used gimmicks to make the financial situation look a little less dire than it actually was, including allowing schools districts to use adult education money and other categorical funds to fill the gaping holes in their tattered budgets.

Proposition 30 is a compromise between Governor Brown’s original tax measure and the “Millionaire’s Tax”. It will temporarily raise income taxes for Californians who make more than $250,000 per year, and will temporarily raise the state sales tax by 1/4 %.  With the passage of this tax, Californians begin to throw off the yoke of imposed fiscal insecurity and austerity, and also expose the lie, a slander on all Californians, actually, that fueled anti-tax propaganda. Californians want a good future for our children and we are ready to pay for it. End of discussion.

However, Proposition 30 does not restore the dedicated funds for adult education we had before 2009.  The effect its passage has on adult education is indirect; because schools will not be faced with drastic mid-year budget cuts, they won’t need to dip into the money that remains to their adult education programs to offset the effects of the mid-year cuts.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be any other temptations to take adult school money, which can be had for the taking.  All adult schools are one school superintendant’s pet project away from extinction, because we are at a structural disadvantage.  No matter how much money schools have, adult schools are vulnerable because we have no dedicated source of funding.

So, hopefully, the passage of Proposition 30 will give adult schools a little breathing room, some time to prepare for the next battle. Now that the spectre of mid-year cuts to K-12 is behind us, the next threat  is already looming, in the form of Governor Brown’s favored reform to education funding: the Weighted Student Formula.  The Weighted Student Formula has the potential to be a good and more fair distribution of education funding, but in the presently proposed  form it seems to be simply a block grant to school districts with more money going to districts with more low income students and more English Language Learners.  If there is no accountability to make sure the extra money is spent on low income students and English Language Learners, there is nothing to prevent the extra money from being siphoned off to serve children less in need but with more organized parents.  And the Weighted Student Formula does not, in its present form, have any provision for adult education.  Advocates for adult education need to demand that if the Weighted Student Formula does go into effect, some dedicated funding for adult education is provided.

Measure G,  West Contra Costa Unified School District Parcel Tax Renewal

After several attempts, West Contra Costa Unified School District has passed a renewal of the parcel tax that funds a number of vital programs, including school librarians, counselors, all school athletics, and some class size reduction.  Unlike some former parcel tax measures, Measure G is a straight renewal of the existing parcel tax that would have expired next year.  It does not provide for an increase, which some parcel tax proponents  argue would be necessary to keep providing the same level of service the tax money has been providing.  Measure G, like Proposition 30, provides no dedicated funding for adult education.  However, as with the passage of Proposition 30, the passage of measure G gives adult education in West County some breathing room, as the district will not need to repurpose adult education funds to replace lost parcel tax monies.

Measure G was designed as a straight renewal of the parcel tax rather than a renewal with increase in order to allow the district to float another bond measure, Measure E, on the same ballot.  Polls conducted prior to putting the two measures on the ballot indicated that a bond measure and parcel tax measure might both pass if the parcel tax was a renewal only, without an increase.  This proved to be correct, as Measure E also passed.  Bond funds can only be used for construction, so the passage of Measure E will have no effect on adult education, except for the fact that some of the schools where we hold classes, specifically  Lake Elementary and Grant Elementary, will eventually have new buildings.

West Contra Costa Board of Education

Congratulations to our two new school board members, Todd Groves and Randy Enos.  Mr. Enos attended West Contra Costa schools and served as a teacher and administrator for West Contra Costa Unified School District for his entire career, so he brings a deep knowledge of the district to his position.  He also managed to win with the smallest warchest of all the candidates, all of it from small  donations by individuals.

Todd Groves is a parent in the district and has brought some innovative and successful programs into the schools, notably the Writer/Coach Connection, in which several members of COSAS participate as tutors. Mr. Groves’ campaign was somewhat better funded than that of Mr. Enos, but again, it all came from individual donations, showing that he has a great deal of community support. For more information about funding for each of the school board candidates, see http://met3000.cowens.net/posts/final-pre-election-campaign-finance-disclosures/.

Both Mr. Enos and Mr. Groves have stated in candidates’ forums that they recognize the value of adult education and support it. However, as school board members they will undoubtedly be faced with many difficult decisions; advocates for adult education will have to keep them and the rest of the board informed about the value of adult education so they can make the best decisions possible.  We look forward to working with them.

The departure of Antonio Medrano from the school board means that, in a district where 48% of the children are Latino, and where Latinos make up the single largest group (with 22% of the students African American and 11% white), there is no Latino on the West Contra Costa Board of Education.  Also, in a district where 66% of the children are low income and most live in the Richmond/San Pablo area, we now have three school board members from  the somewhat more well to do community of El Cerrito. This is not to imply that all the board members will not work hard to serve all the families of West County, as they undoubtedly will, but it is of some concern that the board is not more representative of the population of the district.

Measure N –Sugar Sweetened Beverage Tax

The failure of Measure N, the sugar-sweetened beverage tax for the City of Richmond, does not directly affect adult education.  However, while the tax is gone, the problem of obesity and other problems related to excessive sugar consumption, is not.  As adult educators, most of us have seen the ravages of diabetes and high blood pressure in some of our students: the student who cannot see his paper because he is going blind from complications of diabetes, or the student who feels dizzy because of spiking blood pressure.  We also know that our students are hungry for information that can help them improve their health.  During our recent reaccreditation process, we reaffirmed that it is part of our mission to give our students the information they need to make the best decisions for their own and their families’ health.  If Measure N had passed, our efforts would have augmented the City of Richmond’s health education and recreational programs funded by the sugar sweetened beverage tax.  Since Measure N failed, we need to redouble our efforts to get good information about nutrition, exercise and health to our students.

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