Improving Governor Brown’s May Revise Plans for Adult Schools

The Governor’s May Revise of the 2013-2014 budget backs off of the governor’s original proposal that adult schools be swiftly reorganized under the community colleges in a kind of shotgun wedding the prospect of which was alarming to both parties.  This is a relief for adult schools, and presumably community colleges as well.  The May Revise proposes a long engagement (two years) followed by an arranged marriage in the form of regional adult education consortia which both community colleges and K-12 districts will join in order to receive a dowry of $500 million in Proposition 98 funds.  The success of the union will depend on whether it is a coming together of two equal partners.  Several features of the May Revise plan, starting with the very title of the section dealing with adult schools, suggest that this might not be the case.

The title of the section of the May Revise that treats adult schools is “Improving Adult Education”.  Sacramento can’t seem to refer to adult schools any more without giving them a metaphorical dunce cap and standing them in a corner.  It started with the December 5 Legislative Analysts’ Office (LAO) report, which was really about the lack of coordination between adult schools and community colleges, but implied through its title (“Restructuring California’s Adult Education System”) and cover, which depicted an adult school situation rather than a community college scene, that adult schools, which are synonymous with adult education in common parlance, were the problem.  Now the section on adult schools in the May Revise is entitled “Improving Adult Education”. No other section of the budget has “improving” in the title; the sections are headed with the name of the institution, followed with a description of how much funding it will get. But adult schools obviously don’t deserve any money at all unless they “improve”.

But why? Even the LAO  report stated that adult schools and community colleges do an equally good job of educating adults. The Federal Office of Management and Budget gives adult education throughout the county its highest rating.  If you carefully read the LAO report, you don’t find any real detail about adult schools being inefficient or ineffective; the report is mostly about the need for better coordination between community colleges and adult schools, which is the responsibility of both.  Yet the issue is framed in such a way that adult schools get the blame, which paves the way for such developments as the governor’s original plan to reorganize the adult schools under the community colleges.

The way the powerful frame an issue is just as important as the actual policy recommendations they make.  So while it may seem like I’m making a big fuss over a little word, the atmosphere created by the language policy makers use is powerful.  At this point, the constant digs at adult schools seem to be reflexive and may even be unconscious. But they have an effect, all the more powerful for the fact that they are subtle, almost subliminal, but constant.

The damage done to adult schools by the brutal financial cuts they have endured, coupled with the damage done to their reputations by the way policymakers talk about them, cannot help but undermine them as equal partners when it comes to eventually joining consortia.  Instead of coming to the table as a respected equal, with valuable experience and ideas to share, they will come in under a cloud of vague accusations, all the more powerful for being unspecific,  consisting of charges so general and formless that they cannot be defended against or addressed.

Collaborations between community colleges and adult schools will never work unless adult schools are respected.  This is something that can’t be written into a law or policy document, but policy makers could make a start by changing the way they talk about adult schools.  Unless the baseless and vague accusations stop, adult schools will not be able to bring what they know to the table and be heard.

Another feature of the May Revise that hurts adult school’s chances of joining community colleges as equal partners is the terms of the long engagement.  The May Revise does nothing to protect adult schools from the ravages of their school districts between 2013 and the happy wedding in 2015-16.  While the governor’s original budget proposal included $300 million for adult education for the 2013-2014 school year, that money seems to have been withdrawn.  The May Revise “Maintains the status quo for existing K-12 and Community College Adult Education programs for two years”, which for adult schools means categorical flexibility.  This means some adult schools, including Oakland, may not make it to the altar at all, while others may arrive so battered and weakened that they won’t have any chance at asserting an equal voice when they come together with the community colleges.

The one incentive for K-12 districts to keep their adult schools open is that they must maintain their current level of funding during the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school year in order to receive the new funding in 2015-2016. But the new funding is for adult education, so if a district doesn’t care about providing adult education, there is no real incentive to keep it from closing its adult school and spending the money on other priorities.

Another indication that adult schools will not be equal partners in the transaction is that they must give up a part of themselves in order for the union to take place.  Parent Education and Older Adult programs are specifically mentioned as programs that will no longer receive state funding.  Programs for Adults with Disabilities and Adult Basic Education (the equivalent of an elementary school education for adults) are not mentioned at all.  English as a Second Language, Citizenship, High School Diploma, General Education Development (GED) and workplace education are specifically enumerated as programs that will be funded.

As a recent comment on the Rebuild Adult School petition points out, the defunding of Parent Education programs is shocking.  As the commenter, a Parent Education teacher, points out, many California families are in crisis, or near it.  It is much better for children if families never reach the crisis stage, and Parent Education is a way to keep that from happening. It can also help families recover from crisis.  If California really wants school children to succeed, the state needs to fund and expand Parent Education.  You can sign the petition and read the comment here:

>http://signon.org/sign/rebuild-adult-ed-k-12?source=s.fwd

The defunding of Older Adult programs is also short sighted and cruel.  Adult school programs for older adults provide a low cost, effective service for California’s seniors that keeps them healthy and giving back to their communities longer.  Without older adult programs, seniors will need costlier state services,such as nursing home care, sooner.  As California’s senior population increases, older adult programs will be needed more than ever.  The most vulnerable seniors will be shut out of adult school Older Adult programs if these programs are to be funded by fees, rather than state funding.

Adults with Disabilities programs must also be funded.  These programs help some disabled adults work and support themselves, and help other, more profoundly disabled adults care for themselves independently.  Adults with Disabilities, even those who are able to work, are typically very low income, and could not afford to support their classes with fees.

So, while better than the original governor’s budget plan, the  May Revise has some serious deficiencies and gets a grade of “needs improvement”.  Here are some ways it can be improved:

1.  Provide some dedicated funding for adult schools now and stop the bleeding.   Keep Oakland and other adult schools threatened with closure open.

2.  Retain state funding for Older Adult, Parent Education and Adults with Disabilities classes.  These classes are an investment in California’s communities, and eliminating funding for them will ultimately cost the state far more than the cost of the classes.

3. The make-up of the consortia will be important. They need to include student , teacher and community voices.

Finally, the best marriages are those in which the partners respect and treasure one another.  Instead of constantly treating adult schools as deficient and in need of shaping up, California needs to appreciate them for the treasure they are and teach the community colleges to do the same.  Then adult schools will bring the riches of experience and wisdom to the table.

In the words of Shakespeare, “She is herself a dowry.”

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One Response

  1. Well said!

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