The Value of Free Parent Education Classes

The California legislature is currently working to reconcile three budget plans in order to come up with a state budget.  The future shape of adult education will be determined by the legislature’s decisions about these three plans.  One of the plans, the Governor’s May Revise of the budget, proposes to eliminate funding for adult school Parent Education programs. The senate budget plan goes along with the governor’s plan, while the assembly plan does not mention defunding Parent Education programs.  Hopefully the legislature will decide to retain state funding for adult school Parent Education. The state would benefit from more, not less, Parent Education.

The impetus to defund Parent Education programs comes out of a proposal to “narrow the mission” of adult education to create a narrow focus on workforce preparation.  This proposal, articulated in both the State Strategic Plan for Adult Education and the December 2012 Legislative Analyst’s Report, is short-sighted.  Parent Education, in one sense, is workforce planning for the long term. While a good job training program may have an effect on the California workforce over the next five or ten years, good Parent Education programs will have an effect for the next fifteen to twenty years and beyond.

Parent Education classes are not frills.  They include classes that help parents keep their children out of gangs; such classes can literally save lives. They are also an important support for school children, as a good Parent Education program can strengthen families and help parents learn to provide better support their children’s school success.

The Full Service Community Schools model, which is an emerging model in California, includes Parent Education classes for adults at K-12 schools as part of its community engagement piece.  Many cities and school districts have committed to this model, including Oakland Unified School District, West Contra Costa Unified School District and the cities of Richmond and San Pablo.  It seems counterproductive for the State of California to defund Parent Education classes just as the Full Service Community Schools model is gaining importance in the state.

In my experience, the Full Service Community Schools model  for community engagement works, as far as parent education classes at K-12 sites are concerned.  l work in the English as a Second Language and Family Literacy program at West Contra Costa Adult Education.  Principals in our district frequently request Family Literacy ESL classes at their sites in order to increase parent involvement in the school.  The best parent involvement we ever got at a school was when we combined a Family Literacy ESL class with a series of Parent Education workshops.  Parents cried in the Parent Education workshops because they were so happy to learn about more effective ways to communicate with their children.  They loved their kids and did not want to yell at them, but sometimes could not think of any other way to handle tense situations.  They were so glad to acquire the tools they needed to resolve difficult situations with their children in a more positive way. The principal at the school said that, after the Parent Education series, the parents seemed much more comfortable at the school; that they finally seemed to feel they belonged there.

If the state defunds Parent Education programs in adult schools, the adult schools could still offer them for a fee, but in practice that may be the same as killing the program.  The school where we had such success with Parent Education workshops was a Title I school, meaning that over half the children at the school were eligible for a free or reduced price lunch.  The parents in the workshops were the parents who could not afford to buy their children lunch.  Many of them would not have been able to afford to take the workshops for a fee.

West Contra Costa Adult Education had a thriving Parent Education program before 2008, which included an anger management class that fulfilled the requirements for  court-ordered parenting classes.  We also had many classes for parents at elementary schools.  Once Categorical Flexibility came in and our budget was severely cut, we started charging for all these classes, and the Parent Education department withered away for lack of students. We closed class after class due to low enrollment, even as people called us desperate for the court ordered class.  Once they found out how much it cost, they could not pay for it.  Only after getting a small grant so we could once again offer the class free were we able to bring back one Parent Education class, the anger management class.

If the State of California really wants its school children to succeed, and wants a better educated and well-trained workforce down the road, we should be finding ways to provide more Parent Education, not less.  Parent Education is an important intervention for children as well as adults.

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