Letter Re: January 29 Hearing on Adult Education

January 20, 2014

Senator Carol Liu

Chair, Senate Education Committee

State Capitol, Room 5097

Sacramento, CA 95814

Assembly Member Das Williams

Chair, Assembly Committee on Higher Education

State Capitol, Room 3149

Sacramento, CA 94248-0037

RE:  Hearing on Adult Education January 29

Dear Senator Liu and Assembly Member Williams,

I am an adult educator working in the Richmond, California area. I request that my concerns about the future of adult education be shared with the Senate Education Committee and Assembly Higher Education Committee in preparation for the joint informational hearing on adult education that will take place on January 29.

While the Regional Consortia have the potential to greatly improve adult education by getting community colleges, adult schools, and other agencies that deliver adult education working more closely together, I have several serious concerns about them, as follows:

1. In the light of recent demographic and scientific findings, Adult School and Community College Parent Education Programs should continue to be part of the mission of adult education.  On January 6, 2014, The Center for the Next Generation released a study which  found that one in five California children live in poverty, with the figure being one in three for Latino children.  Yet the Regional Consortia narrows the mission of adult schools and community colleges to exclude Parent Education, even though recent research indicates that helping parents to develop their parenting and workforce skills is an effective strategy for supporting low-income children and helping them to escape from poverty.  http://www.spotlightonpoverty.org/ExclusiveCommentary.aspx?id=7a0f1142-f33b-40b8-82eb-73306f86fb74 The state cannot afford to eliminate promising strategies for reducing child poverty now, especially since Parent Education programs may actually save the state money in the long run. A study by the Zero to Three Policy Center determined that programs like Parent Education produced savings of between $3.78 to $17.07 for every dollar spent, with the savings coming in the form of 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). In light of recent demographic and research findings, adult school and community college Parent Education programs should be retained.

2. In the light of current demographic projections and recent research findings, Adult School and Community College Older Adult programs should continue to be part of the mission of adult education. The senior population of California is projected to grow significantly in the next decades, and adult school and community college programs for Older Adults have the potential to greatly improve the health and well-being of this population. 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. Like Parent Education programs, Older Adult programs can provide significant savings to the state.  An English study regarding the value of Older Adult learning 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

3. The Regional Consortia planning process needs to include student and teacher voices.  As currently structured, the Regional Consortia planning process is very “top down.”  School superintendents represent the K-12 side of adult education in meetings with community college chancellors, while students, teachers, and even adult school administrators are left out of the discussion.  School superintendents have too much on their plates to know much about the nuts and bolts of adult education, and the struggles over funding during the years when adult school money was fully flexible by school districts has left many adult school teachers feeling that their superintendents are not that friendly to adult schools.  Categorical flexibility had the unfortunate effect of causing many school superintendents to look at adult school funds as simply something they could ransack to make up budget deficits.  Add to this the fact that there has traditionally been rivalry between adult schools and community colleges, and you have a situation where the consortia process leaves adult school teachers with the feeling that they have been thrown to the wolves.  Those of us that do the day to day work of adult education are extremely sick of “done deals” and being told to put up and shut up. We have valuable information to share, and the consortia will not work well without the knowledge we have to give.  Instead of starting at the top, the consortia planning should have started with input from students. Next should have come input from teachers, then administrators, then school superintendents and community college presidents armed with good data to make informed decisions.  Hopefully there is time to reverse the top down process before the plans for the Consortia are solidified. So far, the town halls on the Regional Consortia were the most inclusive part of the planning process, but there were only four of them and they seemed to be mainly for show.  At the Oakland town hall I attended, those who had come to express their opinions were told, once again, that all the important decisions had already been made, so while many excellent points were made by participants, the whole affair came off mainly as a chance to vent.

4. The funding structure of the Consortia leaves adult schools extremely vulnerable and may result in a significant reduction in services. Under current plans for the Consortia, adult schools can only receive funding if they partner with a community college, while community colleges receive funding whether they partner with adult schools or not.  There is no incentive for community colleges to join a consortium, and no consequences for them if they do not.  Some community colleges have already decided not to participate in the consortia, leaving adult schools scrambling to find another community college to partner with them.  At best, this may lead to illogical pairings of adult schools and community colleges that don’t really serve the same population. This would completely undermine the whole purpose of the consortia, which is to provide better service to students, not just to get some random adult school and community college together in an artificial structure.  At worst, it would mean adult schools closing their doors and whole populations who don’t live close to any community college losing services.  Underserved areas, which tend to be rural areas, would be most affected.

At the very least, there should be some financial incentive for community colleges to participate in the consortia, so that they will look at their association with their adult school as an asset. A better plan would be to give adult schools dedicated funding and give  both adult schools and community colleges some kind of  additional financial incentive, even if modest, to work together.  The consortia will work much better if adult schools and community colleges are equal partners.

Thank you for your attention to these concerns.

Sincerely,

Kristen Pursley

CC: Joan Buchanan, Chair, Assembly Education Committee

Senator Loni Hancock

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