The Value of Free Classes for Older Adults

This week, the California state legislature is working to reconcile three budget plans in order to come up with a state budget for the next fiscal year. All three plans provide some money for adult education, but details of the plans are different. Unfortunately, two of the plans, the Governor’s May Revise and the senate plan, specifically mention eliminating funding for adult school programs for Older Adults.  The assembly plan does not specifically mention defunding these programs.

The proposal to eliminate funding for Older Adult programs is driven by policy recommendations that the state “narrow the focus” of adult schools, abandoning the lifelong learning and community building mission of adult education to focus solely on workforce preparation.  While workforce preparation is and always will be an important focus of adult schools, eliminating programs for older adults simply because these students are no longer part of the workforce is cruel, discriminatory, and ultimately wasteful, too.

Active older adults, no longer in the workforce, need the social, intellectual and physical stimulation and emotional support provided by senior centers.  The elimination of these cost-effective programs will cost the state money in the long run, as elders will need other, more expensive, state services such as nursing home care much sooner without these services.  California’s population of seniors will increase in the coming years, and other services for seniors are being cut. These programs are needed now more than ever.

Older Adult programs  keep seniors active and giving back to their communities.  In West Contra Costa, two of the senior centers surveyed their students about how many hours they volunteer for the schools.  With only about half of the students responding, the students reported volunteering about 6,463 hours to programs that included the Read Aloud and Writer Coach Connection programs  in the K-12 schools.  The U.S. Department of Labor values volunteer hours at about $11.88 per hour.  That means seniors at just these two senior centers volunteered $76,780 worth of labor.  The school district would be thrilled to get a grant in that amount, but because it is volunteer labor by seniors, they are not even aware  they have this resource.

Frail Elders programs will be particularly affected by the loss of state funding.  The very name of this program indicates that the program serves a vulnerable population that deserves protection.  Frail elders have transportation issues and need services near their homes.  They also have very limited financial resources.  If their local senior centers close, they will not be able to access other services, and if the state ceases to finance their programs, they will not be able to pay enough in fees to support the programs.  Frail elders programs have already suffered greatly during Categorical Flexibility, and the effects of the cuts to these programs have been particularly cruel.

The state will need to provide services for older adults as California’s senior population grows.  It is less expensive to build on a cost-effective program that works well for it’s students than to tear it down only to build something else later. This is why defunding these programs, ostensibly a “cost cutting” measure, is actually expensive and wasteful.

Defunding adult school programs for older adults and frail elders is cruel, unnecessary, and discriminatory. These students will be losing state funding for their programs simply because of their age. The elimination of funding for these programs will also affect women disproportionately. Because women live longer, the majority of the students are women.

Hopefully the legislature will recognize the value of adult school programs for Older Adults and preserve funding for these vital programs.

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