The Governor’s Budget Plan for Adult Education for 2015-2016: Joy, Tears and the Unknown

The governor’s budget plan for adult education in 2015-2016 gives cause for both celebration and mourning. It also sends adult schools on a journey into the unknown, with a new system of allocating funding that mirrors the Local Control Funding Formula which was recently implemented in K-12 schools.

To celebrate: K-12 adult schools will survive. Categorical flexibility is over, and money dedicated to adult education will once again flow to adult schools. K-12 districts will still be involved in adult education. 

To mourn: There is no money for Parent Education and Older Adult programs; the state is about to lose programs that have served young families and seniors since the 1920s and 1950s respectively, unless something is done, and quickly. No plans to save these programs are on the horizon.

Journey Into the Unknown: Beginning in 2016-2017, adult education funds will be allocated by regional allocation committees consisting of representatives of community colleges, K-12 districts, other adult education providers, workforce investment boards, social service agencies, and correctional rehabilitation programs.

Interestingly, the budget for adult education is contained in the section of the budget that relates to K-12 education, which suggests that the governor sees adult schools as part of K-12 districts. This is progress since the 2013 budget, which recommended abolishing adult schools and reorganizing them under the community colleges. In that budget, adult education funding was part of the higher education budget.

To read a summary of the governor’s proposal for adult education funding without interruption, click here:

http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/2015-16/pdf/BudgetSummary/Kthru12Education.pdf

It begins on page 24.

To read it interlarded with comments, like a Greek comedy or tragedy (your choice) read on. The comments are in italics.

Adult Education

Historically, K‑12 school districts and community colleges have provided adult education instruction. However, there was not effective coordination in all jurisdictions and regional workforce needs were not a focus. As a result, the state has an inefficientand in some places redundant system that is not always structured to best meet the needs of adult learners. Strengthening the link between the state’s education and workforce systems is crucial to California’s growing economy.

Comment re inefficiency and redundancy: The governor’s office still can’t seem to talk about adult education without bashing it a little. While it is certainly true that there has not been a high level of collaboration between adult schools and community colleges in many areas, it is also true that they were not originally set up to work together, but were rather established as separate systems. It’s actually a good idea to get them working more closely together, but why not just say we want more collaboration, instead of throwing around charges of inefficiency and redundancy? The claim that adult education is inefficient and redundant in California is actually something of a “big lie”, a lie repeated so often that people believe it to be true. The Legislative Analyst’s Report of 2012 made this claim in inflammatory language, but didn’t back it up with any facts showing that adult schools or community colleges are inefficient within themselves, nor did the report back up its claims about redundancy. Federal reports about adult education nationwide have found that adult schools are efficient and effective institutions that serve their students well. 

It may seem churlish to complain about this language in a budget that seems to save adult schools from oblivion, but the way the powerful frame an issue is important. For contrast, look at the first lines of the section of the budget about California’s prisons, which have been sanctioned for overcrowding and hellish conditions. It reads like a love letter:

 “The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation incarcerates the most violent felons, supervises those released on parole, and provides rehabilitation programs to help them reintegrate into the community. The Department provides safe and secure detention facilities and necessary support services to inmates, including food, clothing, academic and vocational training, as well as health care services.”

http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/2015-16/pdf/BudgetSummary/PublicSafety.pdf

 So prisons are heroes that save us from bad people, while adult schools are just this mess that we have to clean up. Prisons are getting 10.3 billion dollars in the 2015-2016 budget. Adult education is getting $500 million.

Comment re regional workforce focus: Contrary to the above assertion that “regional workforce needs were not a focus” of adult education, regional workforce needs have always been a focus of adult education, and a strong one at that. Adult schools always collaborate with their local Workforce Investment Boards and business organizations. They have to do this, because vocational training and improved earning power are of vital importance to their students. But up until now, workforce preparation has not been the only focus of adult education. The 2015-2016 budget finishes the job of stripping adult schools of valuable community building functions that have historically been an important part of the mission. It narrows the focus of adult education by starving Parent Education, Older Adult, Health and Safety and Home Economics programs of money. These programs will die on July 1, 2015 if nothing is done to save them.

The 2013 Budget Act provided $25 million Proposition 98 General Fund for two‑year planning grants to consortia of community college districts and school districts in 70 regions. The planning builds upon the adult education infrastructure in schools and community colleges. In 2013‑14 and 2014‑15, K‑12 districts also have been required to maintain the 2012‑13 level of spending for adult education and career technical education (CTE) programs from funds received through the Local Control Funding Formula. 

Comment: This paragraph describes the consortium planning process that has been going on for the last two years, which, as the language states, builds on both adult schools and community colleges. During this time, school districts with adult schools have been required to spend the same amount on their adult schools they spent in 2102-2013; in other words, they could not cut their adult school’s budgets any more in order to spend the money on other priorities.

The Budget provides $500 million Proposition 98 General Fund for the Adult Education Block Grant, which is an integral component of the state’s workforce development strategy, as discussed in the Investing in California’s Workforce Chapter. The block grant will fund programs in elementary and secondary basic skills, classes and courses in citizenship and English as a second language for immigrants, education programs for adults with disabilities, short‑term CTE programs linked to occupations with high employment potential, and programs for apprentices. Comment: Here is the  narrowing of adult education’s mission to programs related to workforce development. Community building programs like Parent Education and Older Adult programs  are left out, which means they will lose their state funding. To be successful, it is imperative that these programs be well aligned with the economic needs of each region, and that they provide clear pathways to in‑demand jobs, as determined by regional labor market information. The program will promote ongoing collaboration amongst different providers and with entities that serve the populations that benefit from adult education; namely, workforce investment boards, social services departments, and correctional rehabilitation agencies.

Comment: The proposal to promote ongoing collaboration is very promising, a bright spot in this budget plan. Ongoing collaboration is crucial to meeting the needs of adults in an ever-changing economic and social environment. This proposal indicates that the consortium planning will be an ongoing process, as it should be, rather than a one-time effort.

In order for adult education programs to be well coordinated and linked with the economic needs of their region, the Administration proposes that each consortium designate an allocation board responsible for planning and allocating block grant funds. Each consortium will form an allocation committee consisting of seven members who represent community colleges, K‑12 districts, other adult education providers, local workforce investment boards, county social services departments, correctional rehabilitation programs, and one public member with relevant expertise.Each allocation committee will coordinate with regional partners to ensure various adult education funding streams are integrated, such as block grant funds, other K‑12 and community college resources, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act allocations, and other federal funds. Each allocation committee will determine how to allocate block grant funds for direct instruction, support services, and administration of its consortium (which will be capped at 5 percent). Each consortium will report annually to the Chancellor and Superintendent on progress towards fulfilling its adult education plan using all resources available. These reports will inform distribution of block grant funds in the future. 

Comment: This is the heart of the adult education funding plan. A new entity, an allocation committee for each consortium, will coordinate with regional partners in order to allocate adult education funds. It’s a journey into the unknown, and it’s difficult to know how it will actually play out. On one hand, school districts will continue to be involved in adult school funding, as the allocation committee will include a representative from K-12. This is what adult school advocates have been asking for; a continuing relationship with the school districts they serve. It’s a relief to know this relationship will be maintained. Maybe districts will need to be more involved in their adult schools and understand them more deeply, because they will be involved in these group funding decisions. That would be a desirable and beneficial development.

 On the other hand, it seems like there will be a lot of groups with competing interests having to come to a decision, and it brings to mind the old saying about a camel being a horse designed by a committee. Actually, this saying is a bit unfair to the camel, which is a wondrous creature in its way, and well designed to survive in its environment, but you get the idea. Whether adult education  funding in a region turns out to be a swift steed or an ungainly beast may depend a lot on who the actual committee members are and how well they work together.

 Several questions arise right away. For one thing, the proposal specifically states that each committee will have seven members representing different interests, including K-12 districts and community colleges. Consortia are defined by community college districts, so only one community college district will need to be represented on the board. But most consortia contain many K-12 districts, while it appears that there will be room for only one K-12 representative on the committee. How will this representative be chosen, and how will he or she be held accountable for fairly representing all the K-12 districts in the consortium? And  how will such things as union negotiations fit into this process? Each consortium will be dealing with multiple unions: classified employees’ unions and administrator’s associations as well as teachers’ unions, and they will be different for each district.

 It could work, of course. Like the consortium planning process, it will undoubtedly be a “learn as you go” experience. In order to work, the process will need to be completely open and transparent, and ideally open to input from various stakeholders, especially students. 

A final comment about this: adult school funding before the budget crisis of 2008 stood at about $700 million, and that money was just for adult schools. Currently adult schools are funded at about $300 million, with the money coming out of school districts’ Local Control Funding Formula funds. The 2015-2016 budget provides a $500 million Adult Education Block Grant, and when the state talks about “Adult Education” now, it means both adult schools and community colleges. So it seems that the $500 million, which is still about $200 million less than adult schools alone were receiving prior to the crisis, might also be available to the community colleges, depending, it seems, on the decisions made by each consortium’s allocation committee.

 It is important to note that community colleges have their own funding, included in the Higher Education budget. That budget for 2015-2016 includes well over $900 million for the community colleges in increases and one-time adjustments alone. The community colleges deserve this money, of course. They are a huge system serving an enormous number of students. But it is important to note that the Adult Education Block Grant is a tiny portion of the money available for them, while it is all the money that is available to adult schools. The Adult Education Block Grant is listed in the Community College section of the governor’s 2015-2016 budget proposal, as well as in the K-12 section. You can read the summary of the proposed budget for the community colleges here:

 http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/2015-16/pdf/BudgetSummary/HigherEducation.pdf
The Chancellor of the Community Colleges and the Superintendent of Public Instruction will jointly approve allocations of funds, with an emphasis on providing funding to those regions with the greatest adult education needs. Funding allocations approved by the Chancellor and Superintendent will be distributed to providers as determined by their allocation committees.The Chancellor of the Community Colleges and the Superintendent of Public Instruction will jointly approve allocations of funds, with an emphasis on providing funding to those regions with the greatest adult education needs. Funding allocations approved by the Chancellor and Superintendent will be distributed to providers as determined by their allocation committees.

Comment: It is good to know that the Superintendent of Public Instruction will be involved in approving allocations. It means that the California Department of Education will still have involvement in adult schools, another sign that adult schools are not being completely turned over to the community colleges. The emphasis on providing funding to regions with the greatest adult education needs brings adult education funding into line with the Local Control Funding Formula(LCFF) that is now in place for children, which allocates more money to districts with high numbers of low-income, English Language Learner, and foster children, who are determined to have more educational needs. As with the LCFF for children, allocating more money to areas where there is more need is an excellent idea that has the potential to promote an educational system that is more fair and provides students who stand at a disadvantage with more opportunities to succeed. Like the LCFF, there will need to be strong accountability measures to make sure the money goes to help the students for whom it is intended, rather than simply going to the area in which those students reside.

The one-year transitional period is good news and bad news, in a way. On one hand, it is probably the only way to avoid chaos, as everything is happening so fast. The final consortium reports won’t even be complete until March, and there probably isn’t enough time between now and July to get the allocation committees up and functioning. So the state is extending the maintenance of effort, but it sounds like they will be giving school districts additional money, earmarked for adult schools, with which to do it. That will be good news for school districts, who can now free up the LCFF money they have been spending on adult schools for other purposes without losing their adult schools, which they can now fund from the Adult Education Block Grant. The bad news for adult schools is that next year will just be a maintenance of effort; there won’t be any more money. Adult schools that have been barely scraping by on their scanty allowance will have to keep scraping for another year. However, the last line about further allocations distributed according to allocation committees seems to hold out a ray of hope. Will those further allocations, perhaps, take place next year?

A final report from the two‑year planning process will be provided by March 1, 2015. This report will inform the accountability framework for delivery of adult education and remaining policy decisions, such as how fees are charged for similar programs delivered by different providers.

Comment: Obviously, there are many things left to be decided, but adult schools can breathe a sigh of relief at last. There is money for us, and a system is being put into place for ongoing funding. Adult schools have a future, and it’s going to be interesting, to say the least.

 

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One Response

  1. California has seemed to become the uncontested leader for the spread of community colleges throughout the United States. Community colleges have become extremely “vocationalized” under powerful structural constraints. This budget plan may be a new promise of educational opportunity in the original purposes of the community college and the processes through which it was fundamentally transformed.

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