Time for Wise Investment: Adult School Parent Education and Older Adult Programs

In November of 2013, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office issued a report entitled The 2014-2015 Budget: California’s Fiscal Outlook.  The report predicted that the state’s financial outlook will continue to improve.  The Executive Summary states:

Forecast Reflects Continued Improvement in California’s Finances. In November 2012, we projected that with continued growth in the economy and restraint in new program commitments, the state budget could see  multibillion-dollar  operating surpluses within a few years.  In 2013, the Legislature and the Governor agreed to a restrained state budget for 2013-2014, and our forecast of state tax revenue collections has increased since last year.  Accordingly, we now find that California’s state budget situation is even more promising than we projected one year ago.

As the report notes, the Legislature and the Governor have prudently commited to  spending restraint, even though the financial picture seems to be growing continually brighter.  Even in good financial times, wild spending is never a good idea. However, during good times, wise investments are a good choice.  Now is the time to make investments that will pay off handsomely or save the state money down the road.  That is why now is an excellent time for the state to consider restoring state funding for adult school and community college Parent Education and Older Adult programs, which currently face a very uncertain future.

Legislation passed last year provided that future  funding for adult schools will be channeled through Regional Consortia between community colleges and adult schools.  As currently constituted, the Consortia, now in the planning stages, have no place for Older Adult or Parent Education programs.  Older Adult and Parent Education programs have been spared until 2015, when the Consortia will begin to function.  No provision has been made for them after 2015, and there is a bill pending, SB 173, which would eliminate all state funding for these programs in both adult schools and community colleges.

Both the plans for the Regional Consortia and SB 173 were formed during a time of great financial turbulence in California, and they were created without taking into account the substantial benefits Older Adult and Parent Education programs provide, including financial benefits.  Now that times are better, the state should take a second look at these low-cost programs and the substantial returns the the state could receive from a modest investment in them.

Parent Education programs are, among many other things, workforce development programs for the slightly more distant future. Recent scientific advances indicate that helping parents develop their parenting and workforce skills is an effective strategy for supporting low-income children and helping them escape from poverty(Comment by Jack  P. Shonkoff of Harvard University on the forum “Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity” http://www.spotlightonpoverty.org/ExclusiveCommentary.aspx?id=7a0f1142-f33b-40b8-82eb-73306f86fb74

A recent study revealed that child poverty is worsening in California; 1 in 5 of the state’s children now live in poverty; for Latino children, the rate is 1 in 3.  http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2013/01/23-percent-california-children-poverty.html

The state can ill afford to defund promising strategies for reducing child poverty such as Parent Education programs now.  Poor children have poor parents who do not have extra money to pay for classes; state support for Parent Education classes will be necessary if the families that most need help are to benefit.

Those who argue that the state should eliminate funding for Parent Education programs assert that the state needs to focus on workforce development alone.  But what sense does it make to focus on workforce development over the next ten years at the expense of the workforce of the next twenty years?

Additionallly, Parent Education programs produce significant savings to the state.  A study by the Zero to Three Policy Center determined that  effective early childhood programs, of which parent education is a key component, produced savings of $3.78 to $17.07 for every dollar spent. Savings came in the form of outcomes such as better school retention, improved earnings, and crime reduction (Lurie-Hurvitz, E. (2009) Early Experiences Matter: Making the case for a comprehensive infant and toddler policy agenda. Zero to Three Policy Center).

Older Adult programs also provide significant savings to the state. A 2002  medical study concluded that seniors who participated in physically, mentally and socially stimulating programs such as adult education programs offer contracted dementia at an 18% lower rate than seniors who did not participate in such programs (American Journal of Epidemiology, vol. 155, no.12, June 15, 2002). Dementia is a devastating disease that takes a terrible toll on seniors and their families, and is also very expensive.  Anything that brings down the rate of dementia as the state’s population ages will be a tremendous boon to the state on many levels.

An English study regarding the value of Older Adult learning, quoting a study by the British Department of Work and Pensions, noted that

” Healthier more active later lives could result in significant savings in the costs of health care, social care, pensions and benefits.  It has recently been estimated that improving healthy life expectancy by just one year each decade could result in a 14 percent saving in spending on healthcare and an 11 per cent saving in spending on benefits between 2007 and 2025.”

“Social Value of Adult Learning for Adult Social Care” by NIACE http://shop.niace.org.uk/social-value-social-care.html, quoting Department of Work and Pensions 2009 study “Building a Society for All Ages”, p. 15

The brightening economic picture means California can afford Parent Education and Older Adult classes in adult schools and community colleges. These classes are low in cost, highly effective, and save the state money.  On the other hand, no matter how rosy the economic picture gets, the state will never be able to afford worsening child poverty or 18% more dementia in it’s growing senior population.  California’s improved financial situation provides an opportunity to make wise investments for the future.  The state should choose to invest in adult education programs that will both improve the quality of life for families and save the state money.

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