January 29 Hearing on Adult Education: Summary with Comments

On January 29, 2014, the California Senate Education Committee and Assembly Higher Education Committee held a joint hearing on adult education.  This may well be the only legislative hearing at which the many issues facing adult education at this time of sweeping reform in California are all up for discussion. The hearing took about three hours, and can be viewed here:



The January 29 hearing came out of an August 14 hearing of the Assembly Higher Education Committee on Senator Carol Liu’s bill, SB 173. After hearing arguments for and against the bill, the Higher Education committee decided they needed more information on the situation of adult education. The January 29 hearing was informational in nature, and was not about SB 173.  However, an understanding of what SB 173 would do is necessary if one is to fully understand what was said at the hearing.

SB 173 is controversial, in part, because, if passed as it was presented at the August 14 hearing, it would “narrow the mission” of adult education, eliminating all state funding for Parent Education programs, which have been a part of adult education since the 1920s, and programs for Older Adults, which have been a part of adult education since 1950.  The bill also eliminates state funding for Home Economics programs, first introduced in 1915, and Health and Safety programs.  The elimination of state funding for these four programs would reduce adult education programs in both community colleges and adult schools to a “core” of programs focused exclusively on workforce development, or “college and career readiness” in the current education lingo.

SB 173 is not the only legislation that proposes “narrowing the mission” of adult education.  AB 86, legislation which has already passed to create consortia between adult schools and community colleges, only allows money for planning for the “core” programs: High School Diploma, Adult Basic Education (the equivalent of elementary school attainment for adults), English as a Second Language, Citizenship, Career Technical Education programs, Apprenticeship Programs and Adults with Disabilities.  However, unlike SB 173, AB 86 does not eliminate state funding for other programs.  Older Adult, Parent Education, Health and Safety and Home Economics programs still exist in California, and their fate still hangs in the balance.

The  impetus to “narrow the mission” of adult education is driven by state planning documents, notably the State Strategic Plan for Adult Education and a Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) report, “Restructuring California’s Adult Education System”, which closely followed the recommendations of the State Strategic Plan.  However, there was little opportunity for public input on the State Strategic Plan, and none for the LAO report.  Legislative hearings like the one on January 29 are the first opportunity for a robust public debate on adult education policy in the state.

Opening Remarks

The hearing began with opening remarks by the chairs of the two committees, Carol Liu, of the Senate Education Committee, and Das Williams, of the Assembly Higher Education Committee.

Senator Carol Liu:  The literacy and job skills of California’s population are tied to the state’s economy. The current adult education system, including adult schools and community colleges, serves about 1 million adults, while an estimated 5 million Californians are in need of literacy services.  Among the California adults who need literacy services are  19% of Californians over the age of 25 do not have high school diplomas and  22% of  working age Californians who, according to the latest census figures, speak English less than well.

Comment: What Senator Liu did not say is that the money saved by closing all the Older Adult, Parent Education, Health and Safety and Home Economics programs in the state, a mere $28 million, would not go very far in expanding literacy services to the 4 million Californians who currently go without them.  The program where I work, a very bare bones ESL program, costs about $1 million and serves about 3,000 students a year.    If $28 million could create another 28 programs like mine, the state would be able to serve about 84,000 additional literacy students.  That is not much of a dent in 4 million.

The truth is, the state needs to spend more on literacy services for adults. But robbing Peter to pay Paul will not nearly begin to meet the need, since Peter is just about broke, himself.  Closing all adult school programs unrelated to workforce development is more of a symbolic gesture than a real policy solution.  And it is a gesture that will create misery for those who need the cancelled programs, without substantially alleviating the distress of those who need workforce related services.

Assembly Member Das Williams: Programs for people lifting themselves out of poverty are the state priority, but some time during the hearing will be devoted to sustainable models for “non-prioritized” programs.

Comment: The law delineating adult education programs which can be funded with state money, which has yet to be amended, simply lists the programs that may be funded, without ranking them in order of importance.  The idea that there are “priority “ and “non-priority” programs is new.  The idea that the “non-prioritized” programs have nothing to do with lifting Californians out of poverty is debatable; recent studies have indicated, for example, that Parent Education programs , which are “non-prioritized” under SB 173 and  also under the law that creates the K-12 adult school/community college consortia, AB 86, are an effective intervention that helps children and families escape from poverty.

Comments by Other Legislators

Assembly Member Fox, who has taught in both adult ESL and K-12 schools, noted that children’s success in school is dependent on their parents’ ability to help them at home.

Comment: With this comment, Assembly Member Fox pointed out, at the very beginning of the hearing, that there are other considerations besides workforce preparation which must be taken into account when designing education policy for adults.

Overview by Paul Steenhausen, Principal Fiscal and Policy Analyst for the Legislative Analyst’s Office

Note: Many of the points made during Mr. Steenhausen’s presentation can be found in the LAO report “Restructuring California’s Adult Education System”.  The entire report can be found here: http://www.lao.ca.gov/Publications/Detail/2672

Community College Funding Structure

Community colleges may offer both credit and non-credit programs. Credit classes are funded at a higher rate than non-credit classes.

Key Strengths of the Adult Education System

A key strength of California’s adult education system is that both adult schools and community colleges have a long history of serving adults; adult schools have been existence since the mid-19th century, while community colleges have been around since 1941.


1.  Overly broad mission.  The 10 state funded instructional areas  currently delineated for adult schools and community colleges (Vocational Education, English as a Second Language, Adult Basic Education, Adult Secondary Education, Health and Safety, Older Adults, Adults with Disabilities, Parent Education, Home Economics and Citizenship) are too broad, insufficiently related to each other, and a drain on the states finite resources.

2.  Within the community college system, a lack of clear distinction between credit and non-credit programs.

3.  Within community colleges, inconsistent and contradictory fee structures.

4.  The minimum qualifications for faculty at community colleges and adult schools are different.

5. Adult schools and community colleges do not align curriculum.

6. Community college and adult school data systems do not relate to each other.

Comment: Narrowing the Mission

The newest of the programs deemed “too many” by the LAO, Older Adult programs, have been part of state funded adult education for over 60 years.  The other programs slated to be defunded, Parent Education, Home Economics and Health and Safety, are much older. Why these programs, which have  all worked as part of adult education for more than half a century,  are suddenly “too many” is never explained. The State Strategic Plan and LAO report simply assert that they are “too many”, never discussing their merits, explaining how much they actually cost, or giving  any evidence that these programs make the adult school system unwieldy.

As to the assertion that the four programs are a drain on state resources, the LAO report actually has a helpful table on page 11 showing that all of these programs are, in fact, very small.  Figure 4, headed “Adult Education is Concentrated in Three Instructional Areas”, shows that, with the exception of Health and Safety classes at community colleges, which served about 60 thousand Full Time Equivalent  (FTE) students in 2009-2010, Older Adult, Parent Education and Home Economics programs are miniscule, serving less than 20 thousand FTE each.  Compare this to over 140 thousand FTE each for vocational education, ESL, and Elementary and Secondary Education programs, and the very small scale of the programs deemed, “too many” becomes clear.   These programs are very important to the students who use them, and they should probably be bigger, but they are not big enough to be a significant drain on state resources.

Comment: Funding for K-12 Adult Schools within the Consortia

One element of the current state of adult education that was never discussed at this hearing was the inequality of K-12 adult schools and community colleges within the consortia.  After 2015, K-12 adult schools will be funded through the consortia only, while community colleges will receive funding whether they join consortia or not.  There are no consequences for community colleges if they decide not to join consortia, while adult schools that can’t find a community college to team up with face extinction.  This feature of the consortia could lead to a significant reduction of services to adults in the state if some adult schools have to close, even though Carol Liu pointed out, at the beginning of the hearing, that the state is now serving only one-fifth of the adults in the state that need services.

Since K-12 adult schools are put in such a precarious position by the consortia, while the continuation of community colleges is assured, it is interesting to note  that, of the six areas of concern identified by the LAO, four are shared equally by adult schools and community colleges, (“overly broad” mission, different faculty qualifications, non-alignment of curriculum, and inability to share data).  Two relate to community colleges alone (lack of clear distinction between credit and non-credit programs and inconsistent fee structures).   The question arises:  if the state really believes that the problems with the adult education system are either shared by both community colleges and k-12 adult schools, or problems unique to community colleges, why are k-12 adult schools being, in effect, punished with threatened annihilation if they don’t join consortia, while community colleges suffer no consequences? This is not to say that I agree with the LAO’s assertions about problems with either community colleges or adult schools.  But if you do accept the LAO’s framework, as the state apparently does, what is the logic of threatening the least offending party, adult schools, with closure, and putting their fate into the hands of community colleges who, according to the LAO, have problems with clarity and consistency?

Status of AB 86, the Consortia

Much of the information in this section is also available on the AB 86 website at: http://ab86.cccco.edu/

Gordon Jackson, AB 86 Cabinet: The  appointed six-member AB 86 Cabinet oversees the work of the AB 86 Work Group, which is composed of members from both community colleges and adult schools.  The process is meant to be transparent and inclusive.  Webinars and a newsletter are available to inform the public about what is going on with the consortia process, and the website has an email feature and FAQs.

Comment:  It’s good to know that principals of transparency and inclusiveness are built into the AB 86 concept.  However, things are working out very differently in practice.  Most of the features the AB 86 cabinet and work group cite as evidence of their inclusiveness and transparency – their website, newsletters, webinars and FAQs — are ways to push information to the public, not gather information.  Their few ways of collecting information: email and the mysterious stakeholder sounding board, are very impersonal, and insure that your message goes into a big slush pile of information from all over the state.  They don’t respond to emails; if you email them, you can look at the FAQs later to see if there is something in there they think addresses your concern in some way.

Meanwhile, the consortia are a regional, not a statewide process, and the real decisions for each region are being worked out at meetings between school districts and community college districts.  Perhaps some of these meetings are very inclusive. In others that I am aware of, teachers and community stakeholders have asked for a place at the table and been ignored. Students are mostly unaware that the consortia are even happening, and are not being consulted about their needs.  In order for the consortia to be really inclusive, there need to be rules establishing that students, teachers and community stakeholders must be included in the regional planning process.  They need a lot more than access to FAQs  and a newsletter.

Debra Jones, AB 86 Cabinet: Of the 72 regions eligible to form consortia, 36 have responded with an application to form a preliminary plan.  Applications for the other regions are due at the end of February.  The members of the cabinet and working group are working very hard, and they consider themselves to be representatives of adult school students, not any organization.  The purpose of K-12 adult schools is to prepare students to enter the community colleges or careers.  It is not clear what is going to happen in the future.

Comment:  While preparing students for community college is an important function of K-12 adult schools, they serve other important functions, such as helping parents gain the basic skills they need to support their children’s success in school. These other functions must be taken into account in planning for the consortia.  It is a good thing that AB 86 Cabinet and Work Group members are trying to represent students, but it is crucial that actual students be included in the planning process in order for their interests to be best served.

Bob Harper, AB 86 Work Group: Adult education is a tool for addressing the  national “crisis of inequality” President Obama discussed in his State of the Union speech.  Since a mother’s literacy is the greatest predictor of a child’s school success, adult education is crucial to the educational attainment of many children.  The issue of full access to community college for undocumented immigrants must be addressed, and hopefully the consortia will deal with this issue.  Each consortium needs to map assets and identify gaps for its region so that consortium plans can address the gaps in service.

The future of adult schools is uncertain. For the next two years, school districts will fund adult schools under the “maintenance of effort” legislation.  But in 2015, the maintenance of effort ends, and the Local Control Funding Formula will not fund adult schools. Uncertainty about the future is affecting adult schools.

State Workforce Goals

Chris Hoene, Director, California Budget Project. Note: During Mr. Hoene’s presentation, he referred to a map which the legislators had in their packets. The map shows that recovery in California has been uneven, with job growth at the higher and lower ends of the income spectrum, and that most areas of California are dealing with high levels of unemployment and poverty.  Low educational attainment is linked to poverty. Of the Californians needing basic skills education, a large number are English learners.  There is not a clear correlation between the need to learn English and poverty rates, but there is still a huge unmet need for English language instruction. Employers are requiring more education of job applicants, and the educational attainment of a population is linked to the economic health of a community.

Carlos Lopez, Center for Employment Training and National Council for La Raza: Adults of all ages need adult education.  The job market requires more literacy than ever.  Basic computer literacy is a crucial need for many Californians.  Education for personal fulfillment and lifelong learning is also needed. People who lack a high school diploma or GED are no longer eligible for Pell grants, and there are  now many dislocated workers in California, many of them over the age of 50, who need retraining for jobs. Contextual training, which integrates remediation into a hands-on trade program, is a promising model.  More employers are looking for employees who have passed certification tests.  We were not meeting the needs for adult education before K-12 adult school funds were flexed, and we are serving even less people now.

Meeting Community Needs

Paul Steenhausen, Legislative Analysts Office:   Noncredit classes at the community colleges are funded entirely from the state general fund and property taxes.  The community colleges are prohibited by law from charging for noncredit classes.  Between 2007 and 2013, noncredit programs at community colleges took a disproportional hit due to cuts; spending on community college noncredit programs dropped from about $270 million to about $200 million.  The biggest drop was in Older Adult, Health and Safety, Parent Education and Home Economics.  Some districts were less affected than others; noncredit programs at  City College of San Francisco and Santa Monica were not much affected by cuts.  Some of the noncredit classes were shifted into fee based community education.

Comment by Assembly Member Das Williams: Parent Education and Senior Recreation classes are important in Assembly Member Williams’ district.  However, students in these programs don’t want to take money away from programs that lift students out of poverty.  But they don’t want their classes to end either.  Is there hope – a way it might not be a zero sum game?

Comment:  Assembly Member Williams question as to whether there might be a way out of a “zero sum game” actually represents progress since the August 14 hearing, when he emphatically stated that adult education is a zero sum game.  While Assembly Member Williams obviously believes that “programs that lift students out of poverty” and Parent Education and Older Adult programs  are in opposition to each other, there is research indicating that Parent Education programs can be a very effective intervention to help families escape from poverty.  Poverty is also a problem for seniors, and programs that help older adults stay healthy, manage their resources, and help them avoid scams that prey on seniors can go a long way to helping them stay out of poverty.  Assembly Member Williams seems to be confusing “programs that lift students out of poverty” with “programs that lead directly to a job”.  The problem of eradicating poverty involves more than job training, important as that is.

Bill Scroggins, Mount San Antonio College: While community college decisions may sometimes look “chaotic and illogical” to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, community college programs actually look very different from one region to another because they are meeting regional needs.  Community colleges have to look at community needs, student demand, and statewide trends when they make decisions about course offerings.    They need to decide whether a course should be a credit, non-credit or fee based class.  For example, Mt. San Antonio has a Food Handling class that prepares students to work in restaurants.  Restaurant owners were complaining of high turnover among their workers: people would get their training, then leave.  The exception was older workers, who were more stable.  So Mt. San Antonio converted the Food Handling class into a noncredit Older Adult class, and it was successful.  They might not make the same decision next term.  They need to be flexible to meet local needs.  We can’t write one formula.  It’s important not to limit options and access.

With regards to the LAO’s concern with increases in enhanced non-credit funding at community colleges: when you incentivize something, you get more of it.

Assembly Member Rocky Chavez to Bill Scroggins: Do you have a problem with the guidance we have provided (about the consortia)?

Bill Scroggins: The truth is, it’s hard to get school superintendents to focus on the consortia. They are consumed with navigating the Local Control Funding Formula and the Common Core curricula.  It is important to include adult education specialists in the consortium process for each region.

Comment: Mr. Scroggins made an extremely important point, one that has been largely left out of policy documents and decisions about adult education: programs that may not look tidy on paper may be serving their students very well, and doing exactly what adult education programs are supposed to do: meeting community needs.   Unfortunately, the state has chosen to crunch data rather than look at how programs actually operate on the ground.  Surveys of students and teachers, interviews with administrators, and a careful examination of the value of all programs could have gone a long way to alleviating the state’s apparent anxiety about the state of adult education in California.

Mr. Scroggins comment that you get more of whatever you incentivize is extremely well taken.  Cash strapped community colleges have to make ends meet, and if they can run a class as a more well-remunerated credit class rather than a non-credit class they will do so.  If the state does not like the results, they need to change the incentives.

Mr. Scroggins’ example of the Food Service class that was converted into an Older Adult class brilliantly contested the stereotypes about seniors that seem to be driving policy about Older Adult programs  (hence Assembly Member Williams condescending comment about “senior recreation” classes).  Here was a job training class that did better as part of the Older Adult program. Some Older Adults are also workers.  As this example makes clear, we need to look at the real lives of adult school students, rather than government officials’ assumptions about them.

Hopefully, the committees heard Mr. Scroggins suggestion that there need to be adult education specialists included in all the consortia.  “Adult education specialists” means people who actually work in adult schools: administrators and teachers.  The law that creates the consortia defines the consortia as an agreement between community colleges and k-12 school districts.  The people who actually run and teach in  k-12 adult schools drop out of sight in this framework, and as currently constructed, a consortium could be planned by high level K-12 officials who have no actual experience in adult education, with no input from the people who work in k-12 adult schools every day.

Dr. Greg Schultz, North Orange County Community College District and AB 86 Working Group:  The North Orange County Community College District changed how they offered classes in 2009.  For example, they transferred their Family and Consumer Science class to a fee based Home Economics class.

Enrollment in the class fell 65%; access was drastically damaged.  The reason was the fees.  They had to charge $200-$300 per class to fund the class entirely with student fees.  Removal of state funding for programs represents a denial of access for students in poverty who presently access Parent Education and Older Adult programs.

Assembly Member Sharon Quirk-Silver:  We have to be careful about not going too far when we make cuts.

Assembly Member José Medina (former adult school teacher):  Assembly Member Medina was concerned that K-12 may lose the opportunity to offer classes. The funding for K-12 adult schools is uncertain two years from now.  Some students feel more comfortable coming to a less formal setting (such as K-12 adult schools).  There is a parking issue at community colleges.

Andrew Williams, Center for Lifelong Learning, Santa Barbara City College: All classes at the Lifelong Learning Center are currently fee based.  In past they were all state funded.  The plan to move the classes from state funded to fee based initially met with strong community resistance, but the Center worked with the community and eventually got their input and support.  They have not had a significant falling off of attendance since the shift. They attribute their success to a number of factors, including a public relations campaign, marketing and professional development, strong customer service, reduced cancellation and keeping tuition affordable.

Senator Loni Hancock: You moved to fee based by getting the community involved.  How do you include low income students in the program?

Andrew Williams:  There is tuition assistance for low income students. They have to fill out a form showing their income and expenses.  The assistance comes from donations and is managed by the Foundation of Santa Barbara City College.

Senator Hancock: Do you have data on the participation of low income people in your programs?

Andrew Williams:  There is no data on student income.  About 120 students a term apply for tuition assistance.

Comment:  Santa Barbara City College seems to have done an admirable job of involving the community in decision making.  However, the fact that their enrollment did not drop does not mean that access to their programs for low income students was not affected.  Indeed, some of the factors to which they attribute their success, a public relations campaign and marketing, suggest that they were able to do outreach that allowed them to replace some of their low income students who had to leave the program with a more well-heeled clientele.  They are to be commended for offering tuition assistance, but filling out an income/expense form just to take some classes sounds fairly daunting, and might feel humiliating to some seniors.  Since they serve 4,000 students a year, the 120 students a term who use the tuition assistance represents a very small portion of their student body.

Joanne Durkee, Mt. Diablo Adult School and AB 86 Work Group: When the State Strategic Plan came out, many adult schools started to use it as a guide for changing priorities.  Early in the planning process, Mt. Diablo tried to save its Older Adult programs, but eventually they began to shift them. They took their classes out of senior care facilities, because students there would still receive services without the adult school classes. They did the same with classes for adults with disabilities that were in care facilities. They started gradually raising fees.  They have boosters clubs for some of their programs. They have prioritized credit recovery.

Public Comment; Advance Sign Up

There were two kinds of public comment. There was public comment for organizations who signed up in advance and there was general public comment.

Jeffrey Freitas, Secretary, California Federation of Teachers (CFT):  K-12 adult schools have been decimated since flexible funding was instituted.  CFT disagrees with the Legislative Analyst’s Office about narrowing the mission. This is just more austerity rhetoric.  Adult education is its own system.  The regional consortia need to include all stakeholders.  Teachers and students are being excluded.  CFT has three concerns: 1) inclusion of teachers and their bargaining units in the consortia discussions, 2) narrowing of the mission, 3) public dollars must be used for public education.

Mr. Freitas’ comments can be read in their entirety here:


Irma Nuñez, California Coalition to Save Older Adult Education: Older Adult programs are not “senior recreation” classes.  They have a comprehensive curriculum, and address the needs of multi-generational, multi-ethnic, low –income families. These programs are vital to the survival of families that depend on healthy, active grandparents to provide child care while parents work and otherwise contribute to the health and strength of the family. SB 173 does not fulfill the need for local control, and is especially devastating to low income communities.  The Los Angeles City Council signed a resolution to oppose SB 173.

Beth Smith, Academic Senate for the Community Colleges: It is difficult to create sound educational policy from budget policy.

General Public Comment

Jennifer Baker, California Teachers Association: Faculty must be involved in the decision making process for the consortia.

Marina Kratsova, Hitomi Kawagishi and Marco Estrella, ESL Students from San Mateo Adult School: Adult education is transformative for students. It breaks down isolation and helps students learn to become part of a community in their new country.  Marco stated that for a successful future, you need to take care of the present, which means adult school students.

George Porter, Berkeley Adult School, Older Adult Program:  There should be a separate process, similar to the consortia planning process, to plan for programs like Older Adult and Parent Education programs that support healthy communities. The programs that have survived all the cuts deserve to stay standing. He presented a plan to the committee members, which they accepted.

Mike Montgomery, Congress of California Seniors: Keep funding personal enrichment classes for seniors.

Sylvia (I could not get last name), City College of San Francisco (CCSF):  State needs to continue funding all areas, including Older Adult programs.  The City and County of San Francisco receives money for 36,000 meals that are tied to nutrition education provided by CCSF.  If the nutrition classes are cancelled, San Francisco will lose those 36,000 meals.

Antonio Medrano, California Latino School Board Association, ACLU:  The bulk of adult education students in California are Latino. Fees would be a barrier to many of them.  We need to support categorical funding for adult education. Social Security numbers should not be required for community college enrollment; this requirement bars access for those without documentation. Fees for poor parents are illogical and wrong.

Ken Ryan, ESL Teacher:  If we are going to charge fees, we need to provide state-funded fee waivers for low income students.

Mel Martin, Teacher, Berkeley Adult: The rules of democracy for the consortia are unclear.  What constitutes a quorum? Who votes?  Basic rules of democracy don’t seem to be in operation for the consortia process.

Ethel Murphy, Student, Older Adult Program at Berkeley Adult:  Classes for older adults are not recreational.  They serve a variety of people, from retired professors to people who live on the street.  Students get much needed information in these classes.  Many elderly people might not get out of the house were it not for these classes.

Faculty Association of Community Colleges:  There needs to be more faculty inclusion in the consortia. State needs to give direction as to what is appropriate  and as to how we can keep offering state supported courses for vulnerable populations.

Community College League of California: Non-credit programs need to remain flexible in order to serve all student needs.

Kristen Pursley, ESL Teacher, Communities Organized to Support Adult School: The documents provided to the committees as background to the hearing, the State Strategic Plan and the LAO report, contain good information, but they do not tell the whole story.  The State Strategic Plan has an excellent introductory section on the “ripple effects” of adult education, such as better health outcomes and less recidivism. But it never mentions these effects again, and recommends defunding some of the programs that create them.

Diana Tinoco, ESL Professor, Folsom Community College:  Professor Tinoco was concerned about ESL classes under the consortia. Most of the classes (at Folsom?) are lower level.  Where will ESL money go under consortia?  Partnerships are a good idea.  In Sacramento, seniors are not being served.  Services are needed for them.

To read more about this hearing, see  http://adulteducationmatters.blogspot.com/


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