How California’s Adult Schools Could Still Wither Away

Since last year, adult schools  finally have their own dedicated funding through the consortia. Adult schools have stable funding at last, and should be able to get on with the job of providing education for California’s adults. Unfortunately, adult schools are still in jeopardy because their funding is inadequate and the state apparently has no intention of increasing it.

Adult school funding has not so much stabilized as fossilized, and the fossilization took place when adult school funding had been reduced by half during a chaotic period of unrestricted cuts.  In 2008, the Great Recession precipitated a budget crisis in California, and the state legislature, as an emergency measure, removed restrictions on how schools could spend most of their categorical funds, including adult school funds. From 2008 to 2013, adult school funding was in free fall as school districts took their money to save other programs. Some adult schools closed altogether, and the number of adult schools in the state fell 11%.  State spending on adult schools fell from $750 million a year to $350 million, a more than 50% drop.

In 2013, the financial crisis was finally beginning to pass, but the state chose to make the emergency permanent for adult schools.  In that year, the state finally stopped the bleeding for adult schools by instituting a Maintenance of Effort provision for districts that still had adult schools.  Districts had to keep funding their adult schools at the 2012 level, but this was, of course, whatever low level of funding the adult school was receiving after four years of unrestricted cuts. The Maintenance of Effort persisted for two years, after which it was replaced by the consortia in 2015.

Even when the consortia came into being, the state did not raise adult school funding at all.  Only $350 million of consortia funds was dedicated for adult schools, and adult schools were only guaranteed the amount of funding they had under the Maintenance of Effort.  That is how the consortium funds were distributed; according to what schools got the year before. There was no provision for the fact that some adult schools were hit much worse than others.  The fortunate remained fortunate, and the unfortunate (who were often situated in areas of higher need) were left to struggle and scrape by as they had been doing for six years. There was another 1.5 million in consortium funding divided between all the 71 consortia in the state, and this funding could be spent at the discretion of the individual consortia. It could go to adult schools, but there was no requirement that it be spent on them.

Eight years is a very long time to go without any increase in funding at all, especially when an institution is trying to recover from severe cuts and the resulting disastrous losses of instructional time, personnel, and money for resources.  Adult schools are trying to hold the line, but even if they implement the most exacting austerity measures and leverage their resources with every possible lever they can pull, they are eventually going to fall behind. Here’s why:

Adult schools have three basic kinds of staff: teachers, classified staff (clerks, janitors, etc.) and administrators.  Adult school teachers are strictly adult school employees, but classified staff and administrators are district employees.  They can be  transferred or promoted into the adult school from  other positions in K-12, and they may transfer or be promoted out again to other K-12 positions.  Classified union members often  have bumping rights for all positions within the district, including the adult school. Classified  district staff are almost always unionized, and their union contracts are negotiated relative to the school district’s budget, not the adult school’s (much smaller) budget. Yet some of them will be working at the adult school, and the adult school must pay the negotiated wage. That is only fair, but since adult school funding is frozen, the adult school has to cut services in order to pay for every wage increase classified staff win.

School administrators,too, often belong to associations and negotiate their salaries as a group. Again, their salaries are negotiated relative to the budget of the district as a whole, not of the adult school, but some of them will work for the adult school, and, again, every raise or even cost of living increase will impact the adult school’s ability to provide services.

Many adult school teachers belong to unions also, but their wages are not bargained for relative to the budget of the district as a whole; their wages are bargained for relative to the adult school budget.  So their are likely to have to struggle harder for even the smallest raise while their  district argues that the money just isn’t there. Meanwhile, classified staff and administrators at the adult school will see regular raises that have been negotiated relative to the district budget, and their higher salaries will cut into the adult school’s budget and ability to provide services. Indeed, in severe cases, instructional hours may be cut and teachers may lose hours and income to pay for the salary increases of classified staff and administrators.  And, of course, students will lose out too, in the form of less classes, less instructional hours, and less supplies.

When I talk about adult school teachers’ wages, by the way, I do mean wages.  Most adult school teachers are part-time, hourly employees.  Most do not receive health care benefits or paid vacations and holidays, while classified staff and administrators who work at the adult school have the full benefits associated with full-time positions.

Of course, school classified staff and administrators need and deserve their raises. The problem is that the state does not take their raises  into account when they steadfastly refuse to provide adult schools with any more funding.  Legislators and policy makers in Sacramento don’t seem to know much detail about  how adult schools work, so their decisions frequently have unintended consequences.   In this case, the unintended consequence may be that adult schools will eventually sink beneath the burden of salaries negotiated with reference to school district budgets.

Add to this the fact that the cost of materials keeps going up, and that even the most carefully maintained old equipment eventually breaks down completely and needs to be replaced, and you can see that disaster is looming for adult schools sooner rather than later.  It is hard to understand why policymakers in Sacramento don’t see this too.  You simply can’t freeze the funding of an institution permanently and expect that it will not fall further and further behind.

Yet this is apparently what the state plans to do.  According to information that is beginning to come out about the 2017-2018 budget, the governor is planning, for the third year in a row, not to give adult schools any more money that he gave them last year and the year before that.

The excuse legislators give for not giving the consortia more money is that they need to see how the consortia work out.  If they see success, then they will consider more money.  But they are extremely fuzzy about how they define success. There are no timelines and no benchmarks, just a vague indication that the consortia haven’t met their expectations yet, whatever they are.  But the state has asked the consortia to effect sweeping changes that will take time to implement and even more time to show results.  If policymakers really intend to freeze consortium funding until that distant day when they see all the results they want, adult schools simply aren’t going to make it to the finish line.

Sacramento is ignoring the fact that success costs money.  The legislation that created the consortia imposed a lot of new costs, some of which must be born by adult schools. There are demands for additional services and data that have to be paid for somehow.  Governor Brown is famous for keeping a stone in his office for his contemplation. Next time he looks at it, he should remember that you can’t get blood out of one.

And Sacramento should remember that failure costs money, too.  Failure can be expensive, but it is a waste of money, not an investment.  If the state fails to fund the consortia adequately, they will be paying for a disappointment year after year until the whole thing finally runs into the ground. The consortia are trying hard to succeed.  If they fail for lack of adequate support from the state, government officials should blame themselves.

Only the citizens of California can turn this around.  The governor is now in the process of constructing the budget for 2017-2018, and he needs to hear from Californians that adult schools must be more adequately funded.  Please write to Governor Brown and ask him to increase consortium funding  to at least  the 2008 level of $750 million.  It won’t be enough, but it will be a start.  Please contact your state legislators too, and let them know this is important to you.  They will need to approve the governor’s budget by June.

The governor’s budget comes out in mid-January.  It will be revised in May, and the legislature has to approve it in June.

Here is Governor Brown’s address:

Mailing address:

Governor Jerry Brown
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814

Phone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 558-3160

You can also email him from here:

My thanks to Ken Ryan, an adult school teacher whose insight was the inspiration for this post.









2 Responses

  1. My understanding is that the three-year Adult Education Block Grant added $500 million to the adult ed budget which was divided among the 70+ consortia in the State. This was in addition to the current MOE for each district. Our relatively small consortium received over $1 million over and above current MOE (some districts had closed their adult school and had no MOE). This additional money was supposed to go for rebuilding. How much each consortium in the state received from this $500 million was based on a formula the State Dept of Ed came up with centered on census data. We hoped they’d increase the $500 million to $750 million for the next 3 yr grant, but it appears that they haven’t.

    My question is what are they going to base the next 3 yr AEBG grant allotments from the $500 million for each consortium on? We are required to provide unduplicated enrollment data as well as several performance indicators. If Districts or Consortia haven’t increased enrollment or performance perhaps they won’t receive as much from the AEBG.

    Please let me know if I have any facts wrong and if anybody knows the answer to how the next AEBG grant allotments will be determined. Also, will each consortium receive the same as their former MOE (MOE as distinguished from additional allotment) amount?



  2. You are correct that the amount of the Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG) was $500 million and that it was divided among the 71 or so consortia. However, in most districts it was not in addition to the Maintenance of Effort (MOE). There was no requirement that school districts continue to contribute to their adult schools, and in many districts, the AEBG money simply replaced the MOE. That is why I say in the post that adult school funding has fossilized; for many adult schools there has been no additional money since 2009. It sounds like your district decided to keep contributing to its adult school, which is great. Some districts did that, but many did not.

    While the distribution of the AEBG money may have been based on census data (that sounds right, but I will have to research it), the distribution of AEBG money to individual adult schools was based on what they were getting under the MOE. They got no more and no less, though they could apply to their consortium for more. The baseline amount that California spends on adult schools under the AEBG is the same amount that was spent on them under the MOE: about $350 million.

    You are correct that there was some hope that the $500 million would be increased to $750 million. This increase was proposed in a bill authored by Assembly Member Patty Lopez. The $750 million amount was significant, in that $750 million is the amount California spent on adult schools alone before the crash of 2008. Now the state spends only $500 million on the consortia, which includes adult schools and community colleges (with $350 million earmarked for adult schools, and with community colleges receiving almost all of their funding independent of the consortia). Unfortunately the bill was substantially amended to remove the funding increase and replace it with a requirement that the consortia document needs that are not being met because of underfunding. Patty Lopez lost her seat in the November election, so adult schools lost an important advocate in the state government.

    Your question about allotments for the next three years of funding is a good one. As I understand it, adult schools will not receive less from the AEBG than they do now, but otherwise the distribution will be based on data submitted by the consortia. Beyond that, I’m not sure that anything has been worked out in detail. I believe the data the state
    intends to examine for the purposes of distribution is data documenting need in the consortium area and also data documenting successes the consortium have had.

    Your comment demonstrates how difficult it is to advocate for more adequate adult school funding under the AEBG/consortium system. Every consortium and every school district is different. Some adult schools (like, hopefully, yours) are doing OK because their district has decided to contribute some funding and/or their consortium has been generous. Others are struggling, stuck in the same financial hole they were pushed into by the recession and categorical flexibility. Others remain closed with no hope of reopening. I think we Californians must ask ourselves whether we are content with such a patchwork system, where some of the patches look pretty good while others are threadbare and almost worn through. We especially have to take into account that whether an adult school is doing well or poorly has almost everything to do with luck, and nothing to do with need in the area it serves or intelligent planning. If a district wasn’t too hard hit by the recession and/or was enlightened about the value of adult school, it might not have cut its adult school much in the first place. Or it might continue to contribute to its adult school after the AEBG was instituted. Or a community college within the consortium may have decided to give some or all of its AEBG money to restore an adult school. But all of this is dependent on good will; there are areas where the need for an adult school is great, but school districts or consortia are unable or unwilling to enhance or restore the adult school. What is needed is a state plan to restore all adult schools, especially in the areas of greatest need.

    Thanks for your comment.

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