SB 173: Other Educational Opportunites for Older Adults are an Illusion

Older Adults: “Other Opportunities” Can Be an Illusion

SB 173, a bill which will be heard in the Assembly Higher Education Committee on August  14,  would eliminate state funding for adult school and community college programs for Older Adults.  While supporters of the  bill contend that it is acceptable to slash these programs because older adults have other educational opportunities, these other options are more of an illusion than a fact.  While some cities or churches provide services for seniors, it does not necessarily follow that they would have the budget, facilities or staff to absorb all the seniors who would be left without services if their adult school and community college programs closed. On the contrary, local governments and churches, especially in low-income areas, have their budgets stretched just as thin as any school district. Communities Organized to Support Adult School (COSAS) recently had a discussion with a local activist who has been very involved with Richmond Parks and Recreation.  He was appalled when he heard that cities might be expected to take over all adult school programs for seniors.  He said the city didn’t have the space in its schedule or the facilities to take over these programs.  Parks and Recreation would have to cancel other programs to create the needed programs for seniors.

In addition, programs that seem at first glance to be run by a city or church may, on closer inspection, turn out to be adult school programs.  Adult school older adult programs are often housed in churches or city facilities.  This is true of all the West  Contra Costa County Older Adult programs; they are all located in churches. This means the programs are very low cost, because the school district is not paying for space.  But the program is run by an adult school teacher, and if the state funding for her job is eliminated, the service will cease to exist.

Even if there really are “other options” for seniors somewhere in the city or locality where they live, the closure of the adult school run senior center or class they depend on would constitute a significant disruption of service.  For a senior who has had to stop driving for vision or health reasons, the cancellation of the adult school program three blocks from her house means and end to services.  It won’t matter that she could take a class somewhere across town, because she has no way to get there.  A responsible transition of a population that has health issues, transportation issues, and many other limitations to other services would take a lot of time, effort and careful planning.  So far, plans to close adult school Older Adult programs have not mentioned who would be responsible for this planning and how it would be done.  When West Contra Costa USD was thinking about closing its Older Adult programs, they had someone call Parks and Recreation.  Parks and Rec said the seniors could call the local swimming pool and go swimming. This was solemnly reported out at a school board meeting as a solution, when the adult school runs two programs for adults with dementia.  Unfortunately, I have yet to see any attempt at arranging a transition that was any more responsible than this.

Medicalizing Older Adults

At the same time, this body needs to address the growing needs of our senior population from the perspective of their longevity and health.  That is a larger discussion that must happen outside the education framework. “ 

The above quote comes from a set of talking points in favor of SB 173 forwarded to adult education advocates by a committee assistant to the Senate Committee on Education. 

The statement seems to concede that the state will have to spend some money on the needs of senior citizens, and seems to imply that all services for older adults are properly considered health issues.

If the point of eliminating funding for adult education for older adults is to save money, this strategy does not make sense.  The U.S. health care system is one of the most expensive in the world, while adult schools are a very inexpensive delivery system for services.  Efforts to expand preventive care in this country are still in their infancy, so placing all services for seniors under the health care system would almost guarantee that they would not get any services unless they are sick.  Many adult school classes that are actually very protective of seniors’ health look more like education than health care, and probably would not fit into a health care based delivery system.  For example, one of the West Contra Costa adult school programs offers a very popular German class.  Research has shown that language learning is very good for the brain; it actually builds new synapses.  But would a health care based delivery system be willing to pay for a language class for seniors?

Old age is a stage of life, not a disease, and older people are whole human beings, not medical patients.  Human beings are social animals, and we take our cues from the society around us. As California’s older population grows, the state will have a substantial interest in keeping older adults healthy.  Placing all services for them under the health department sends  exactly the wrong message; if the state sends the message that seniors are invisible unless sick, they will be sicker.  If the state sends the message that seniors are citizens with contributions to make, they will be an asset to their communities instead of a burden.

If you would like to send a message to the Higher Education Committee, you can contact Hillary Blackerby at Hillary.blackerby@asm.ca.gov  or Karen Teel at Karen.teel@asm.ca.gov.

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One Response

  1. Well said! The senior programs in West County operate as a partnership between West Contra Costa Adult Education and the local churches to provide an incredibly cost effective service for our elders, benefiting not just those directly involved, but everyone in the community. If the programs didn’t already exist, we would be expending a great deal of resources developing them. Let’s lead by example and show how in the best of times and in the worst of times, we honor and respect our mothers and fathers. Our children are watching.

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