A Look at AB 104: The Adult Education Block Grant Program

As  2015 comes to a close, adult schools have just completed their first fall term under the new Adult Education Block Grant.  The Regional Consortia turned in their first three-year plan at the end of October.  2015-2016 is a transitional year; things will change again at the end of this fiscal year, at which time funds for adult schools will begin to be distributed to the consortia rather than being distributed directly to school districts as they were this year.  It seems like a good time to take a look at the language in AB 104 that establishes the Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG) in order to see what lies ahead.

AB 104 addresses funding for all K-12 schools. The portion that establishes the AEBG begins with Section 39, Article 9.  The entire legislation can be viewed here: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB104

Here are some salient features of the language that creates the AEBG.

Joint Administration by the Community College Chancellor’s Office and the state Department of Education

The first section of Article 9, 84900, provides that the AEBG is under the administration of the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.  The inclusion of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the state Department of Education in the oversight of the AEBG is in itself a victory for adult schools, since Governor Brown’s original adult education proposal would have eliminated adult schools altogether and hand over all responsibility for the education of adults to the community colleges.  Adult school advocates need to keep a sharp eye on legislation relating to adult education and make sure the Department of Education remains involved.

Adult Education Regions Could Change

Section 84903 provides that the Community College Chancellor’s Office and the Superintendent of Public Instruction will divide the state into adult education regions based on economic and demographic factors, the boundaries of regions used to distribute other funds for other state programs, and the presence of adult education providers that have demonstrated effectiveness in meeting the educational needs of adults.

Until otherwise determined by the chancellor and the Superintendent, the physical boundaries of the adult education regions shall be the same as the physical boundaries of the regions established for the purposes of providing planning and implementation grants pursuant to Section 84830.

This would indicate that the boundaries of the current consortia could possibly be changed by the Chancellor and Superintendent. For those of us who have been working hard to coordinate with our community colleges and the other adult schools in our community college districts, this comes as something of a surprise, as the possibility that the boundaries of our consortia might change was never mentioned during the planning process. This is not to say that reconfiguring of consortium boundaries might not be a good thing in some cases; it is only to say that the idea is new and was not much discussed with practitioners.

Since so much time, effort and money has gone into the planning for the regional consortia, one can only surmise that in  practice the boundaries will probably remain the same for the foreseeable future, or will be changed only under extraordinary circumstances.  However, it is interesting that the boundaries can be changed.  And it must be said that, for those of us who work for adult schools and have had to weather so many changes, the possibility that the consortium boundaries could be changed does raise the unwelcome specter of yet more disruption.

Who Can Be a Consortium Member?

Section 84905 defines who can be a member of a consortium:

Any community college district, school district, or county office of education, or any joint powers authority consisting of community college districts, school districts, county offices of education, or a combination of these, located within the boundaries of the adult education region shall be permitted to join the consortium as a member

Note that only schools, either community colleges, school districts or county offices of education, can actually be consortium members. This will be important later.

Decision Making

Section 84905 provides that all members of a consortium shall participate in any decision made by the consortium and that all proposed decisions must be considered in an open, properly noticed meeting at which members of the public may comment.

This is an excellent requirement and will go a long way towards making sure that consortium decisions are open and transparent.  However, it is not clear how decisions by the consortia will interact with decisions by other key decision making bodies for both adult schools and community colleges, like  K-12 boards of education and community college boards.  It would seem that they would have to be involved somehow. but their role is not spelled out.  The role that would be played by unions, another important factor in education decision making, is also never mentioned anywhere in AB 104.

Section 84905 also requires that a consortium must request comments about proposed decisions from “other entities” in the region that provide education and workforce services for adults.  These other entities would include local public agencies, workforce investment boards, libraries and community based organizations.  The idea of including all of these entities in a network of educational services for adults is new and laudable. However, it is important to point out that the requirements for teachers at some of these organizations may not be the same as they are for teachers at community colleges and adult schools.  Unlike schools, community based organizations are free to hire teachers who are not credentialed, or may use volunteers to do the teaching. Needless to say, schools cannot do this, and must operate under more stringent rules as to who can teach for them.  As all these adult education providers begin to work more closely together in a network serving adults, these differences must be kept in mind.

Adult Education Plan

Evaluation of Needs and Resources

Section 84906 provides that, in order to receive an apportionment of funds of a fiscal year, the members of a consortium must approve an adult education plan for that fiscal year.  This plan must be very comprehensive.  It has to include an evaluation of the educational needs of adults in a region and a list of the entities that provide education and workforce services in the region together with a description of services they provide. The plan must also list  entities that have a fundamental interest in the provision of adult education services; one has to assume that local businesses and industries would almost certainly be a major component of this list.

Evaluation of Available Funds

The plan must also include an evaluation of funds available to consortium members and “entities that provide education and workforce services to adults in the region” (some of whom might not be consortium members).

Integration of Services

The plan must also describe actions that consortium members will take to address the educational needs of adults in the region and to improve the effectiveness of their services.  In addition, the plan must describe actions that consortium members and other “entities that provide education and workforce services to adults in the region”, as well as entities with a fundamental interest in adult education services, will take to improve integration of services and improve transitions into postsecondary education or the workforce.

The actions consortium members are supposed to coordinate with “other entities” include “Alignment of academic standards and curricula for programs across entities that provide education and workforce services to adults” and “Qualifications of instructors, including common standards across entities that provide education and workforce services to adults.”

Questions about the Plan

The purpose of the adult education plans required by AB 104 is commendable; the plans would seek to establish a seamless network of education services for adults.  However, the language of the statute does raise some questions, as follows:

1. Alignment of standards

Alignment of standards between consortium members certainly makes sense, although in practice it is not always easy.  Remember, consortium members are all schools of one kind or another; they must be either school districts (adult schools), community colleges, or county offices of education, all of which must employ credentialed teachers, adopt curriculum, etc.

Alignment of standards between consortium members and other entities that provide education and workforce services to adults is a bit more problematic.  Remember that according to Section 84905, this can include community based organizations, etc.  These other education providers cannot be members of the consortium, and do not receive consortium funds, but consortium members must include them in the plan. They are not bound by the same rules as schools and may not have the resources to align their curricula with school districts and community colleges.

Particularly troubling is the requirement that community colleges, school districts and other entities must adopt common standards for instructor qualifications.  This could either involve more stringent requirements for some entities that had been using uncredentialed paid teachers or volunteers, or a relaxation of requirements for school districts and community colleges.  Either one could cause difficulties.  More stringent requirements for “other entities” could require them to hire credentialed teachers that would break their budgets.  And how could they be induced to adopt these more stringent standards when they don’t even receive monies from the AEBG?

On the other hand, relaxation of standards for community college teachers and school districts would result in a general deskilling of the adult education teaching force.

It is unlikely that the intent of AB 104 is actually to either force school-type qualifications on entities that are not schools nor to cause community colleges and adult school to relax their standards for teachers.  But it is important to point out that the text of the legislation seems to allow for these possibilities.  There may be a need for some adjustment to the language of the legislation to clarify its intent.

2. Evaluation of Funds

As part of the Adult Education Plan, consortia are required to evaluate all funds available to both consortium members and other entities that provide adult education services in the region.  The statute makes it quite specific that the plan must include “funds other than those apportioned pursuant to this article”.

This means that the consortia must enumerate funds that are not available to them, and that they do not control, because they have to include funding available to “other entities” that provide adult education and workforce services, including community based organizations that may have private funding, etc.

One hopes that the intent of this requirement is just that consortia make very sound adult education plans based on all the available resources and funding. But, given how stingy the state has been to adult schools, (and the AEBG is the only state money available to adult schools), one can’t help but be a bit suspicious.  Is the state planning to give less money to, say, a consortium in an area where some community based organization has a big  private grant to do some workforce -related work, on the grounds that this is money available in the area for adult education?  Would that be fair, when none of the money would be available to consortium members?

Also, if the state includes other monies available to consortium members in its calculations as to how much a consortium will get, it might mean that the consortia, and particular the adult schools within the consortia, can never get ahead.  For example, consortia would have to report the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), formerly Workforce Investment Act (WIA) money that adult schools work extremely hard to earn.  WIOA money is “pay for performance”; adult schools get this federal money when students make benchmarks on standardized tests.  Every year, adult schools work hard to improve the number of benchmarks they earn.  The program is exacting, and it takes a lot of funding and effort to administer it.  But if the state takes the WIOA money into account when distributing AEBG funds, deducting the amount schools earn in WIOA funds from the total to give more state money to districts that are not  earning as much from WIOA, adult schools will be running as hard as they can to stay in the same place.

The state should be asked to clarify its purpose in requiring the consortia to report on other funds available.  To a certain extent, other funds should be none of the state’s business.  Does the state require any other state supported institutions to report other financial resources?  Do the prisons have to do this? Just asking.

Apportionment of Funds

Section 84908 will become inoperative in July of 2016.  It provides that, just for this year, AEBG funds for each adult school will be distributed directly to school districts or county offices of education.  In 2016-2017, AEBG funds will be apportioned to the consortia.

Those of us who work for adult schools cannot help but be somewhat nervous about next year.  It seems that legislators don’t understand that we still work for school districts.  The superintendent of schools for our district signs our checks.  We usually work in buildings owned by the school district.  The district processes our payroll.  Many of us are represented by unions that also represent the K-12 teachers in our districts.  We need our districts to be invested in us, and the more layers there are between adult school funds and school districts, the more likely the districts are to feel that we are somehow not their problem.

It remains to be seen how all this will work out in practice.  The language of the legislation actually provides that funds will be apportioned either to a fund administrator designated by members of a consortium or to consortium members (presumably for consortia that have opted not to have a fund administrator).  School districts are consortium members, so maybe they would still receive funds directly unless their consortium has selected a fund administrator.  For those consortia that have a fund administrator, one assumes that the administrator would apportion funds to the school districts within the consortia.

Eligible Programs

Section 84913 enumerates the programs for which Adult Education Block Grant Funds can be used.  They are:

  1. Elementary and secondary basic skills programs. This includes Adult Basic Education (the equivalent of an elementary school education), High School Diploma and high school equivalency (such as GED) programs.
  2. English as a Second Language, Citizenship and workforce preparation programs for immigrants.
  3. “Programs for adults, including, but not limited to, older adults, that are primarily related to entry or reentry into the workforce.”
  4. “Programs for adults, including, but not limited to, older adults, that are primarily designed to develop knowledge and skills to assist elementary and secondary school children to succeed academically in school.”
  5. Programs for adults with disabilities.
  6. Programs in career technical education.
  7. Apprenticeship programs.

AB 104 defines the programs authorized for state funding more broadly than the consortium planning legislation, AB 86, did.  Yet AB 104 is more restrictive than Education Code Section 41975, which previously established state funding for adult school programs and included funding for Parent Education, programs for Older Adults, Home Economics and Health and Safety.

AB 86 made no mention at all of Parent Education, Older Adults, Home Economics or Health and Safety.  These programs were excluded from the consortium planning process, almost certainly with the intention that these programs would no longer be funded by the state.  Though the reason for defunding  the four programs was never directly stated,  the programs AB 86 authorized for consortium planning were all related to workforce development.  Since several state policy documents released during the early 21st Century recommended that the state refocus all adult education funding directly on workforce development, it seems reasonable to assume that AB 86 was meant to refocus adult school funding in this way. Hence the exclusion of Parent Education, Older Adult, Health and Safety, and Home Economics.  The case for this view is strengthened by the fact that Adults with Disabilities was originally excluded from AB 86 also, though it was added  back in later.

AB 104 seems to soften this exclusive focus on workforce preparation, but it might be more accurate to say that AB 104 recognizes that  K-12 elementary and secondary education is also workforce preparation, and that whatever adult schools can do to support elementary and secondary students can also be considered workforce development. So AB 104 provides for state funding for adult school programs that support elementary and secondary students.

What Adult School Programs Are Now Excluded from State Funding?

Health and Safety and Home Economics Programs

Health and Safety and Home Economics programs, always small, are now excluded from state funding.  While these programs were small, they were not necessarily unimportant.  Arguably, it might be desirable to expand them rather than eliminate them. Education in both Health and Safety and Home Economics might be very effective in combating the obesity epidemic, for example.  But they are excluded from funding under AB 104. The money saved is probably negligible, given the size of the programs.

Parent Education for Preschool Children

By authorizing classes for adults supporting elementary and secondary school children, AB 104 restores Parent Education to some extent.  Hopefully the state will interpret “knowledge and skills” necessary to help school children succeed academically broadly, recognizing that classes that improve family communication or help parents address discipline issues can be just  as important to children’s school success as classes that teach adults about the latest craze in math instruction so they can help their children with homework.

But AB 104 would seem to exclude state funding for education for parents of preschool children, which flies in the face of growing evidence about the importance of the first five years of life.  Providing support to families of young children, and enriching the home environment in which these children grow, can make both the job of parenting these children and the job of educating them easier when they begin elementary school.  An investment in education for the parents of young children would pay off handsomely for the state.  AB 104 is short-sighted in its exclusion of state funded education for these parents; hopefully this lack of vision will be corrected in later legislation.

What about Older Adults?

It’s good that Older Adults get a mention in AB 104; AB 86 pretended they don’t exist.  The manner in which they are included is a bit strange, however.  They are included in items 3 and 4, which provide for state funding for programs “including, but not limited to, older adults” for adults desiring to enter or reenter the work force, or acquire skills to help children to succeed in school.

First of all, to say these programs include older adults is just to say that they are adult school programs.  The phrase “including, but not limited to, older adults”  could have been added to every one of the 7 programs enumerated in Section 84913, because there is no upper age limit on any adult school program.  Students over 55 years of age are regularly to be found in English as a Second Language and Citizenship classes, adults with disabilities come in all ages, and it is probable that every adult school can boast a few septuagenarian and even octogenarian high school graduates.

Since AB 104 specifically mentions older adults in the language regarding workforce entry/reentry and support for school-age children, it would appear that the state wants to especially encourage older adults to enter these programs.  That in itself is laudable. It’s good that the state recognizes that older adults can and should join or rejoin the workforce if they so desire, and that they can make valuable contributions as grandparents, school volunteers, etc. to the education of children.

But this emphasis on older adults as potential employees or supporters of K-12 students implies that seniors who are too frail or simply not inclined to go back to work or become classroom volunteers do not deserve educational services.  AB 104 would seem to skew adult school services for older adults towards a younger, more able older adult population, pushing seniors with health issues to the side.

Older adults can be great supporters of school children, but not every older adult is a grandparent of a school age child, and not all feel called to work with school children.  And if they don’t feel that call, you don’t want them working with children.  Yet they might  be able to offer very valuable service in some other volunteer capacity.

And then there are older adults who just need classes that help them keep from falling, or teach them how to avoid scams, or give them a place to go where they can meet others and avoid becoming isolated.  The value that older adults bring to a community just by being companionship and support for each other needs to be recognized.

As with the elimination of parent education that focuses on preschool children, the elimination of state funding for classes specifically focused on the needs of older adults is shortsighted.  Education can play a crucial role in keeping seniors active and healthy, an outcome that benefits the whole community, not just seniors.  AB 104 makes a step in the right direction by at least mentioning older adults, but the role it spells out for older adult education is much too limited.

Apportionment of Funds

Section 84914 provides that each consortium must approve a distribution schedule that includes the amount of funds to be distributed to each member plus a narrative justifying how the planned allocations are consistent with the adult education plan.

The section also provides that, in years when the consortium receives funding greater than the amount allocated the prior fiscal year, the funds distributed to each member must be equal to or greater than the amount received by that member the previous year. But there are exceptions. Under the following circumstances, the amount can be reduced

1.If the member no longer wishes to provide services consistent with the adult education plan.

2. If the member cannot provide services consistent with the adult             education plan.

3. If the member has been consistently ineffective in providing services that address the needs of the adult education plan and reasonable interventions have not resulted in improvements.

In years when the allocation of funds to the consortium is less than the amount allocated in the prior year, the amount distributed to an individual consortium member cannot be reduced by a percentage greater than the percentage of the total reduction, except under circumstances 1-3, above.

Some Concerns about Conditions Under which Apportionment Can Be Reduced

The conditions under which an apportionment can be reduced indicate that adult schools have entered a new, and perhaps treacherous, landscape, as follows:

#1 If a member no longer wishes to provide services … This indicates that the Maintenance of Effort, which required that districts continue to fund their adult schools from 2012-2013 to 2014-2015, is over.  Districts can now opt out of the adult school business if they choose.  Hopefully districts would not want to opt out, now that adult schools have their own funding through the Adult Education Block Grant.  But the option is there. Will some districts decide that the consortium process is onerous and a drain on their resources?  That the adult education plan for their consortium makes unreasonable demands on them? If so, they have an out. Is it possible we will see another rash of adult school closures in the coming years?

#3 The member has been consistently ineffective in providing services …The question arises — who decides?  What will be the process for determining that a consortium member has been consistently ineffective?  Will there be an appeals process, and what would that look like?  Item 3 on the list of conditions seems to imply an entire process for determining ineffectiveness, trying to address the problem, and then deciding whether or not interventions have worked. But the process is not spelled out.  Would it be up to each consortium to decide how to determine this?  If so, the results across the state could be very inconsistent.

Hopefully the option of reducing funding for a consortium member is there to provide a remedy only in extreme cases.  Those who framed the language probably thought that hardly any consortium members would ever wish to stop providing services, and that failure would be very easy to recognize and that everyone would agree that it was failure when they saw it.  But things are rarely that simple.

One can only hope that the state has not set up an incentive for consortium members to struggle with each other over money, accusing each other of ineffectiveness, trying to push each other out, etc.  After all, AB 104 is silent on what would happen to the extra money within a consortium when one member leaves or has its allocation reduced.  One would assume that would mean more for the other consortium members.

Report on Use of Funds and Outcomes

Section 84917 provides that the chancellor and Superintendent shall prepare a report to the state Director of Finance, Board of Education and Legislature by September 30 following any fiscal year for which funds are appropriated for adult education.  The report will include a summary of the adult education plan for each consortium, a distribution schedule for each consortium, the types and levels of services provided by each consortium, the effectiveness of each consortium in meeting student needs, and recommendations related to delivery of education and workforce services for adults.

Section 94920 provides that the chancellor and Superintendent will identify common measures for determining the effectiveness of each consortium in meeting the educational needs of adults.  At a minimum, the chancellor and Superintendent will define specific data each consortium must collect and a menu of common assessments and policies regarding placement.

The chancellor and Superintendent are charged with identifying measures for assessing the effectiveness of consortia no later than January 1, 2016.  So we should know soon what those measures will be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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