Why California’s Adult Schools Need Dedicated Funding

In less than a year, on July 1, 2015, the current mechanism for funding California’s adult schools expires. There is no clear plan as to how the system will be sustained after that. Adult schools and community colleges are currently engaged in a regional planning process to create consortia between adult schools and community colleges, with the regions defined by community college districts. Governor Brown has indicated an intention to provide money through the community colleges to fund the regional consortia, which would include adult schools. The funding would come through the Community College Chancellor’s Office, not through the Department of Education. The governor and the finance department favor this model because it simplifies the budgets of K-12 schools, clearing the way for the Local Control Funding Formula. The educational needs of California’s adults were not considered at all when this model was adopted, and, not surprisingly, the model would serve them poorly. California’s adult schools need dedicated funding. It is the only way we can assure that the educational needs of California’s adults will be met.

The consortia are a compromise. Governor Brown’s original plan was to dissolve the adult schools in 2013 and give over all of adult education to the community colleges. Strong public advocacy deterred him from this course, and the consortia are designed to preserve the “dual delivery system” (adult schools and community colleges) while bringing the two systems more into alignment. Two of the strongest arguments for retaining adult schools were that 1) adult schools are more accessible for many California adults than community colleges and 2) adult schools support the mission of K-12 schools. These are also strong arguments for providing dedicated funding for K-12 adult schools.

California’s adult schools need dedicated funding for the following reasons:

Create Equity within the Consortia: California’s adult schools need dedicated funding yesterday to be able to negotiate as equal partners with community colleges within the consortia. Adult schools have now gone through half of the two-year consortium planning process in a “one-down” position; for adult schools, everything is riding on the consortia, while for the community colleges, nothing is. Community colleges will continue to receive funding whether the consortia work out or not. Meanwhile, under the current plan, all the money for the consortia will come through the community colleges.

Asking two parties to go “partners” when one party has all the power does not create a real partnership. It’s more like a process of subjugation, and ripe for abuse. This is not to say that I am aware of any overt misuse of their power by the community colleges within the consortia; in fact, the ones I have come into contact with seem genuinely willing to collaborate. But structurally, the potential for bullying is there; in fact, the structure itself is something of a bully. Chances are great that adult schools, already cowed by years of mistreatment by the state government and their school districts, are already censoring themselves when they feel their opinions might displease the community colleges, even when they feel they should advocate for the needs of their students.

It is now unlikely that adult schools will have dedicated funding before the consortia planning process is complete. However, if the state is serious about the consortia, they will have to be an ongoing process. If you really want a system that meets regional needs, the planning process can’t be “one and done”. The needs of a region are dynamic, and the dialog between adult schools and community colleges as to how to best serve the educational needs of adults in their service areas needs to continue long after 2015 if the consortia are to succeed. Once adult schools have their own funding, the negotiations will be more equal, and have better outcomes for California’s adult students.

Assure Adequate and Equitable Funding for Adult Schools: If all money for the consortia is to come through the community colleges, what is to prevent the community colleges from spending all or most of the money on their own needs first? Every branch of education in California is underfunded and cash-strapped, even with the relief provided by Proposition 30, so community colleges are likely to spend the money in this way in the absence of strong directives to do otherwise. The best way to make sure adult schools receive funding is to provide dedicated funding for them, relieving community colleges of the difficult (or not!) decision as to whether fund adult school programs or their own.

After 2015 we have no definite plan to fund adult schools, only a sketchy intention by the governor to provide funding through the consortia. The governor’s statement of this intention is extremely brief, and doesn’t say anything about how the funds would be distributed, or whether there would be any assurances that at least some of the money would go to adult schools. The state likes to be coy about what will happen after 2015, saying that funding levels and mechanism will be based on the consortium planning reports. Since there are 70 consortia, it is hard to see how this could result in a coherent statewide funding system, but that is what the state has been saying. For the inequality built into the consortium planning process, with adult schools at a severe disadvantage due to their lack of dedicated funding, see above.

Red Herring Alert: In discussions of funding through the consortia, one often hears the argument that the community college does not have to be the fiscal agent for its consortium. It could be an adult school, or even some other entity! This goes along with the assurance that the fiscal agent is just a “banker”; they just hold and disperse the money. Fact: In most consortia, the community college is the fiscal agent. For a possible explanation of why that might be, see above regarding the unequal position of adult schools within the consortia. It is true, however, that the fiscal agent is just a banker. It doesn’t matter who the fiscal agent it; what’s important is who decides how the money gets spent. That would not be the fiscal agent, whether it is the community college or an adult school.

Keep Adult Education Accessible: If all money for adult education is routed through the community colleges, as the governor intends, and there are no guarantees that some or any of the money must be spent on adult schools, adult education in California will become much more inaccessible. Adult schools are more accessible than community colleges in a variety of ways. For one thing, there are more of them; there are 112 community colleges in California, and about 300 adult schools. Community colleges tend to be located in large urban areas; smaller cities and rural areas far from the nearest community college may be served by an adult school. While all California community colleges and adult schools are now joined in consortia, some of those consortia must cover vast areas, as there are large counties in California where no community colleges are located.

Additionally, adult schools are often more decentralized within their service area than community colleges. With some exceptions, community college students are expected to go to the college campus for services. Adult schools go where their students are, setting up classes at the elementary schools attended by their students’ children, the churches where their students worship, or community centers where their students go for services. Even the parking fees at community colleges are a barrier for some students, who do not find this obstruction at their adult school site.

If all money for the consortia comes through the community colleges, and the community colleges are allowed to spend consortium money on their own needs first, the adult schools within their consortium area are likely to wither away, leaving California’s adults with much less access to education. To keep adult education accessible, the state needs to commit to dedicated funding for adult schools.

Ensure that Needs of Adult School Students are Met. Adult school students are often very different from community college students, though they may become community college students in time. They may be older students who are not comfortable in the more youthful community college environment. They may be immigrants with little or no formal education in the home country who need to get used to doing academic work. They may have very limited English, and need time to acquire the English they need to function well in daily life in the U.S., let alone do academic work. They may be native born students who need to acquire basic skills before they can tackle more difficult learning tasks. These are among some of California’s most vulnerable adult learners, and an important gateway into education would be closed to them if adult schools were to dry up for lack of funding.

Assure Continued Adult Schools Support for the K-12 Mission: Adult schools belong in K-12 districts because they support K-12 schools in a variety of ways. English as a Second Language, Family Literacy and Parent Education classes at school sites increase parent involvement in the school, give parents skills they need to support their children’s school success, and turn schools into community centers. High School Diploma, GED, and Adult Basic Education programs help schools complete their mission of providing basic literacy to all Californians by providing learning opportunities for adults who , for whatever reason, did not attain basic literacy before the age of 18. If all money for adult education comes through the community colleges, the goals of the community colleges may begin to take precedence over those of K-12 districts. Adult schools need dedicated funding to ensure that they can continue providing vital support for K-12 schools.

Maintain Good Relationships between Adult Schools and K-12 Schools: If all money for adult schools comes through the community colleges after 2015, as the governor seems to intend, what is to prevent school districts from eventually regarding their adult schools as an alien encroachment by the community college into their affairs? While the state has supposedly committed to an adult education system that includes both community colleges and adult schools, the lines between the two systems are significantly blurred when all the money comes through one system. This has the potential to disrupt relations between adult schools and K-12 schools, which might in turn threaten successful features of adult school programs such as Family Literacy and ESL classes held at K-12 school sites.

Establish Clarity Regarding the State’s Intentions: The Legislative Analyst’s Office advised that the state maintain an adult education system that includes both K-12 adult schools and community colleges. Public advocacy against the governor’s plan to collapse the adult schools into the community colleges in 2013 demonstrated that the people of California support adult schools. Now the state needs to clearly establish its support for adult schools by committing to dedicated funding for them. The current state of uncertainty creates anxiety in supporters of adult schools while encouraging those who do not support adult schools to be increasingly dismissive. Many school districts still respond to all concerns about their adult schools with some version of “It’s all going to the community colleges.” This attitude has led to debacles like the near-closing of the LA Family Literacy Centers, even though this model program had been shown, through an eight-year study, to produce excellent results for low income and English Language Learner children, the very children the Local Control Funding Formula is supposed to help.

The fact is that in the absence of a state commitment to dedicated funding for adult schools, both supporters and detractors of adult schools have every reason to believe that the state’s support for adult schools is an illusion. There are many who believe the consortia are simply a slower and less obvious route to the governor’s original plan, which was that the community colleges become the single provider of adult education in the state. To be honest, there is much evidence that this may be the case. The Regional Consortia regions are defined as community college districts, even though it would have made more sense for some adult schools to enter into consortia with a nearby community college in another district.   And as far as we know, the governor intends that all the money come through the community colleges. If all the money comes through one system, in what sense do we actually have two systems?

California’s adult schools have existed in a state of uncertainty for seven long years. For most of those years, they have been fighting for their very existence. They are still around because Californians need them, want them, and support them. Now it’s time for the state to step up and support its adult schools with dedicated funding to provide adult schools and their students with some stability at last.

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2 Responses

  1. I’m a single mother of 2 who has been working for the Adult Division for 22 years. If my job gets taken away, I and my 2 kids will be in a total hardship.

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