The Governor’s Budget Plan and Adult Schools

Two very different plans for the future of adult education in California are currently in play. On December 5, 2012, the California Legislative Analyst’sOffice (LAO) issued a report entitled “Restructuring California’s Adult Education System,” which recommends that adult schools be funded as categorical programs within K-12 school districts. On January 10, Governor Brown released the Governor’s Budget Plan, which recommends that adult education classes be reorganized under the community colleges.  Both plans propose dedicated funding for adult education, and the LAO and Governor Brown are both to be thanked for recognizing the importance of adult education and recommending funding for it. However, as advocates for adult education, Communities Organized to Support Adult School, (COSAS) finds  that the LAO’s recommendation that adult schools remain a categorical program within K-12 districts is more likely to result in good, accessible programs for adult education students, especially the more vulnerable adult education students who need the services most.

The LAO report is a 27 page document which examines the situation of adult schools under K-12 districts and community colleges in detail.  The section regarding adult education in the Governor’s Budget Plan is only four paragraphs in a much longer document, and of necessity contains little detail.  Therefore, it makes sense to examine the governor’s plan in the light of the facts and figures in the LAO report.

PART 1: Doing the Math: The Governor’s Budget Plan Would Result in a Reduction in Adult Education Services

TABLE 1: Reduction in Funding 

*Estimated state money available for adult education through K-12   districts in 2011-2012 $635 million
*Estimated amount spent on adult schools by k-12 districts in   2011-2012 (the rest was “flexed” to support other K-12 programs) $400 million
Amount apportioned in the Governor’s Budget Plan   to community colleges to fund a “comparable k-12 system” within the community   colleges $300 million

 *Figures are from the LAO Report, “Restructuring California’s Education System”, p. 12

 Before “categorical flexibility” was implemented in 2009, the state spent about $635 million on adult education.  Over the past three years, under categorical flexibility, K-12 districts have flexed about $235 million, so the $400 million spent in 2011-2012 represents a “low ebb” in adult school funding.  The governor’s budget reduces spending on adult education by another $100 million from this “low ebb” amount. 

TABLE 2: Ratio of Community Colleges to Adult Schools 

# of adult schools in CA # of community colleges in CA Avg. number of adult schools   each community college would have to take over Avg. funding  each community college would receive




$2.7 million

Figures are from the LAO Report, “Restructuring California’s Education System”, p. 9 

The above table looks at averages, but community colleges are not distributed equally throughout the state. The City of Oakland, for example, has two of the 112 community colleges.   If the governor’s plan were to be adopted, some community colleges would find themselves trying to administer a vast network of far-flung adult schools. While one of the goals of the governor’s plan is greater “efficiency” in the delivery of adult education services, the necessity for some community colleges to administer adult schools distributed over a wide area might itself result in inefficiency.  On the other hand, community colleges might simply centralize their services, thus reducing the availability of local services for students who can’t travel to the centralized community college site.

Consolidating adult education under the community colleges would exacerbate a problem of unequal distribution of adult education services identified in the LAO report (LAO Report, page 24).  Adult schools tend to be located near urban centers, and community colleges even more so.  Placing all adult education services in the hands of community colleges would make it more difficult to expand services to underserved, primarily rural, areas.

The Amount of Funding Specified in the Governor’s Budget Plan Is Not Enough to Maintain Adult School Services at Current levels 

Since there are currently 300 adult schools in California, and the Governor’s Budget Plan proposes a $300 million budget for reorganizing the adult schools under the community colleges, it follows that on average, $1 million dollars in state funding will follow each adult school as it is absorbed into the community college system.  For   comparison, West Contra Costa Adult Education (WCCAE), a relatively small district, currently operates  a very lean program on a budget of about $2 million in state funds (greatly reduced since 2009, with a consequent reduction in services).  The Governor’s Plan would reduce funding for WCCAE by half again, further cutting an already much reduced program.

PART 2: Coordination between the Adult School and Community College Systems: Myths and Facts 

The governor’s plan begins by noting that both community colleges and adult schools are authorized to provide adult education, and goes on to say, “However, there is no statewide requirement or mechanism to coordinate the efforts of these two systems. As a result the state has an inefficient and redundant system that is not always structured in the best interest of adult learners.” The LAO report also makes a lot of generalizations about inefficiency, confusion and inconsistency in the way adult school and community colleges function that are not borne out by what the report actually says about how the two systems work.  Let’s look at some of the generalizations made by both the governor’s plan and the LAO report, as opposed to the reality:

MYTH 1:  There is no statewide mechanism to coordinate the efforts of the adult school and community college systems (Governor’s Budget Plan). FACT: California Education Code 8530-8538 provides a statewide mechanism to coordinate the efforts of adult schools and community colleges.  The responsibilities of the two institutions are quite clearly spelled out, with the provision that they can arrange to transfer some of their responsibilities through mutual written agreement.

MYTH 2: California’s adult education system is inefficient and redundant due to overlap between adult school and community college services. FACT: Non-credit courses (the ones most similar to adult school courses) make up a small percentage of community college offerings.   The vast majority of classes offered by community colleges are for-credit lower-division college classes that bear little resemblance to adult school classes. Community colleges do offer some non-credit classes which, like adult school classes, have open enrollment (students can enter and leave classes at any time) without restrictions on how often a student can repeat the class.  Yet a chart on page 11 of the LAO report shows that non-credit courses make up only 14% of all adult education services (adult school and community college services combined)  On the same page, the report notes that only a few community colleges have a “robust selection of noncredit adult education”.   When you add in the fact that there are six community colleges that have already taken over adult school functions and therefore offer larger non-credit programs with no competition from a local adult school, the actual duplication of offerings between community colleges and adult schools is quite small.

Notably, it would be this relatively small noncredit community college program that would have to expand in order to create the program “comparable” to the current K-12 adult school system.  Would community colleges be able to adequately expand these small programs on the $ 1 million they would receive for each adult school they absorb?

Interestingly, the LAO report contains a long discussion regarding  confusion within the community college system, due to a lack of clarity in state regulations, around the three kinds of community college classes: degree applicable credit, degree non-applicable credit, and non-credit.  The LAO report does note that there is “overlap” between these classes (page 10) and also that there are sometimes credit and non-credit students in the same class. The report ends up recommending that the legislature convene a work group to study the issue of credit and non-credit vocational education to straighten the matter out. (LAO Report, p. 22).

This raises  a question as to whether giving another entire system (adult schools) to a system that already seems to have some internal contradictions and inconsistencies (the community colleges) will necessarily result in greater efficiency and clarity in the delivery of services to adults.

Another question regarding the “inefficiency” of having two systems would be: Why is choice good for children but bad for adults?  In an era when we are busily creating charter schools, academies and all sorts of choices for children, why is it bad for adults to be able to choose between two systems?

MYTH 3: Adult schools are “not always structured in the best interest of adult learners” (Governor’s Budget Plan). FACT: Adult schools provide accessible classes that are responsive to community needs and staffed by qualified teachers.  To be fair, the governor’s plan was talking about the California adult education system as a whole (both adult schools and community colleges), but it is hard not to read it as a condemnation of adult schools, since the plan proposes their destruction, and the handing over of their resources to the community colleges, which, one must suppose, the state regards as a superior system.  The governor’s plan gives no details to back up this assertion; the LAO report does not make this assertion, and certainly provides no evidence for it. Of course, it’s impossible to prove or disprove statements that include a qualifier like “not always”; since “always” is a pretty absolute standard to come up to. But if the governor’s office is going to level a charge like that, they had better be sure they can propose something better.  It’s hard to see how tearing down an existing system and building up a similar one with less money can provide that.

In reality, there are many features of adult school classes that are structured in the best interest of adult learners, as follows:

Adult school classes are community based and accessible, and make K-12 school sites into community schools:  Adult schools provide classes throughout the community in churches, community based organizations, and K-12 schools.  This model works well for adult education’s mostly low-income students, many of whom have limited access to transportation.   Because adult schools are part of the K-12 system, they have easier access to K-12 sites, and are able to offer classes in English as a Second Language or Parent Education at K-12 schools during the mornings, allowing parents, usually mothers, to study at their children’s elementary school while the children are in school. These classes, while offering expanded educational opportunities for women, have the effect of making the school more of a community center, and principals have reported that the parents seem to take more ownership of the school when they themselves attend classes there. Even if community colleges wanted to replicate this program, they would have a harder time getting access to K-12 school sites, since they are not part of the school district.

By contrast, adult school students often don’t know where the local community college is.  At WCCAE, teachers sometimes take their students on field trips to the community college to help break down the barrier between adult school and community college.

The more informal structure of adult school classes often provides a more appropriate entry into the adult education experience for some adults, especially immigrants:   Adult school classes have many features that are designed to make them accessible and comfortable for adults, such as open-entry, open exit classes to accommodate busy adult schedules.  Adult school classes typically meet for more hours than community college classes, and they have a more informal, welcoming atmosphere.  Adult school classes quickly become communities, and the teachers and students get to know each other.  Teachers often end up helping their students find services they need in the community when they become aware of problems students face.  Many English as a Second Language students at West Contra Costa Adult Education who later went on to do well at the local community college report that they tried the community college as newcomers but were overwhelmed.  After some time in adult school, they had acquired the academic skills they needed to succeed at community college.

Adult school teachers must have credentials authorizing them to teach adults. The LAO report notes that adult school teachers, but not teachers of non-credit community college classes, must have a credential authorizing them to teach adults (LAO report p. 23).  Community colleges require only a BA degree from teachers of non-credit classes.  The requirement for a credential is there because adult schools are part of K-12 districts.  The LAO report actually recommends that adult school teachers no longer be required to have credentials so teachers can more easily move back and forth between the adult education and community college systems. But it is notable that, at this time, adult school teachers are required to have an additional qualification that non-credit community college teachers do not have to have.  The Bachelor of Arts required to teach a non-credit community college class certifies that a teacher has mastered a subject area.  An adult school credential, which also requires a BA, further requires that a teacher must have some training in teaching, and specifically in teaching adults.  Every adult school teacher must take a course in pedagogy for adults to clear the adult school credential.

MYTH 4: “Community colleges are better positioned to address the needs of adult learners because that is their ‘core function’”.  FACT:  Current state policy shifts the community colleges away from adult school students.  Adult school -type education is likely to be as much of a stepchild under the community colleges as it is under K-12 districts.  Community colleges are, after all, colleges, and their “core function” is to provide college level courses leading to the AA degree.  The Community College Student Success Taskforce moves the community colleges even further towards emphasis on academics, with more pressure to get students to earn degrees quickly.  Teaching English to  a 37-year-old recent immigrant with a third grade education is not likely to be a priority in this atmosphere; that is a job adult school would regard as its “core function”.

As the LAO report points out on page 11, only a few community colleges have large non-credit programs.  When hit with budget cuts, many community colleges further reduced their non-credit offerings to save their for-credit  classes; that is a pretty good indication of how they see their “core function”.

The Governor’s Budget Plan does mention that “…colleges will be encouraged to leverage the capacity and expertise currently available at the K-12 adult schools.” That’s nice.  The community colleges can come ask for our advice while we’re standing in the unemployment line, apparently.  Adult school professionals need jobs.  Once they hear the institution they work for is to be dissolved, they will be too busy looking for other employment to offer advice.

PART 3: Out of the Shadows: What Does Narrowing Adult Education to “Core Instructional Areas” Mean? 

Both the LAO report and the Governor’s Budget Plan recommend funding only the “core areas” of adult education, though they define the core somewhat differently. The LAO report specifies that the state supported adult education programs should be reduced from ten to six.  The six that are to be retained are 1) adult elementary and secondary education, 2) English as a Second Language, 3) citizenship and workforce preparation, 4) vocational education, 5) apprenticeship and 6) adults with disabilities.

The Governor’s Budget Plan states that only “core instructional areas such as vocational education, English as a Second Language, elementary and secondary education and citizenship” will be funded.  Though the areas in the Governor’s Budget Plan correspond roughly to those delineated in the LAO report, it is troubling that the governor’s plan leaves out adults with disabilities.  Will this vulnerable group be left without services if the governor’s plan is put into action?

Both the Governor’s Budget Plan and the LAO report define the core by naming the programs that will be kept, never mentioning what is to be cut.  This should make us all suspicious; by refusing to even breathe the names of the programs slated for elimination, these policy documents don’t give the public a chance to evaluate what will be lost by “focusing on the core mission”.  In the knowledge that deeds that must be done in darkness are dark deeds, indeed, let us bring forward into the light these programs marked for death, so that we can at least consider their merits.  While one never sees an enumeration of the programs that are to be defunded, a chart on page 11 of the LAO report showing the concentration of adult education instruction does show nine programs.  We will have to guess at what the 10th one is.

So what is to be cut?

Parent Education:  Parent education includes such serious services as court-ordered parenting classes for parents in family law proceedings.  In low-income areas especially, classes on how to keep children out of gangs are in high demand.   Parent education classes can also help parents and children benefit from the latest research on how children learn, and can improve family relationships. Parent education classes support the mission of K-12 schools, and arguably should be expanded, not eliminated.  State adult education policy seems to be focusing only on the next ten years or so.  Why don’t they care what happens in 15 or 20 years?

Older Adult Programs: Adult school older adult programs are literally a matter of life and death to some of their more frail students, who may well decline more rapidly without the stimulation and social contact adult school programs at local senior centers provide.  These programs are a low cost and effective way of serving seniors, keeping them healthy and active so they don’t need more expensive state services.  Many seniors find volunteer opportunities through their adult school programs, becoming positive assets to their communities.  A well-trained workforce is only one part of community vibrancy and health; a truly vibrant community is one where everyone has a chance to contribute.

Adults with Disabilities Programs:  Identified as part of the core mission by the LAO report, but left out by the Governor’s Budget Plan, Adults with Disabilities programs include sheltered workplace programs that help disabled adults become self-supporting, lifeskills classes that help more profoundly disabled adults live independently, and programs for adults with dementia.  The loss of any of these programs would be devastating to their students.

Health and Safety:  Health and Safety courses in adult schools can be work-related, such as first aid and CPR certification programs for those who need them for their jobs. Courses that prepare community members for disaster response also come under the health and safety heading. In adult schools, health and safety classes are almost entirely supported by student fees. In community college, where they mostly take the form of physical education classes, they are offered as for-credit courses, which, again, means they are supported by student fees.  State support of Health and Safety programs in both the adult schools and community colleges is already minimal. 

Home Economics: The LAO report notes that, in 1915, “the legislature authorized teachers to instruct adults in their own homes on food and nutrition” (LAO Report, page 8).  Almost 100 years later, with the state in the grips of an obesity epidemic, it seems like a strange time to defund home economics altogether.  In regards to enlightened policy, we might do well to go back to 1915.  According to the chart on page 11 of the LAO report, home economics in the early 21st Century is an extremely small program, done mostly in the community colleges as a non-credit class.

So there they are, the doomed programs.  One thing is very clear from the chart in the LAO report: all of these programs are currently very small, especially in adult schools, amounting to not even 10,000 full-time equivalent students per program.  They are small, but, at least in the case of Older Adults, Adults with Disabilities, and Parent Education programs, very important for their students.  The Governor’s Budget Plan states that savings from closing classes in “non-mission” areas will be “reinvested” in basic skills and workforce classes, but the savings from closing such small but vital programs are likely to be minimal.  The benefit of creating a few more vocational education classes needs to be balanced against the pain caused by closing small programs that serve their students well.  Is the benefit of opening one more resume writing class really worth the pain of even one senior pushed into isolation by the closure of a senior center, or one disabled adult who loses her sheltered workplace job and becomes homeless? These are choices California needs to make with open eyes. Hiding these programs and what they do behind rhetoric about “core programs” and “focusing the mission” is a disservice to Californians.

Conclusion: Adults Would Be Better Served by Maintaining Adult Schools and Community Colleges as Separate, Closely Cooperating Systems, as Recommended in the LAO Report

The Governor’s Budget Plan proposal to reorganize adult education under the community colleges represents a reduction in services that have already been severely reduced and should be restored, not cut further.  The governor’s plan would tear down a system that is working well; there is no guarantee that the reorganized system would work better.  The LAO report, which made a thorough study of both the adult school and community college systems, came up with a much better proposal: dedicated funding for adult schools as programs within K-12 school districts, with the enactment of legislation that would help community colleges and adult schools improve their collaboration.

The crowning irony of the governor’s plan is that it recommends that community colleges “leverage … the expertise currently available at the K-12 district adult schools”.  Now, at the end of a long process of tearing adult schools down, starting with a state strategic plan for adult education into which adult school teachers and students had no input, the opinions and expertise of adult educators are to be consulted.  After weathering a long battering at the hands of categorical flexibility, with their system finally destroyed and their jobs gone, adult educators will finally be asked what they did and how they did it.  If adult education professionals and students had been consulted at the beginning of the process, they could have dispelled some of the misconceptions on which the drive to destroy adult schools and, consequently, restrict access to education for the most vulnerable adults, seems to rest. If adult schools survive this crisis, policies regarding adult education should never again be made without consulting  students and practitioners from the beginning to the end of the process.  They are the true experts.


One Response

  1. I was an engineer most of my adult life and am now teaching adults how to do math and science as well as other subjects in order to receive a HS diploma.These students usually progress to the junior colleges and have done well there. Many have acquired an AA and gone on to a four year institution. I am sure they would not have done so without an adult school to help them out. How do I know this. I just know. That’s what a lot of adult school teachers know. Just ask, stupid.
    And what do politicans know? Don’t ask. I think you know that answer.
    Oh, by the way, I’m one of those older adults. 75 to be exact.

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