Increased Adult School Funding Is a Social Justice Issue

California’s adult schools have not seen an increase in funding for nine years. Worse yet, the first five of those years, from 2008 to 2012, saw a steep drop in adult school funding. During those recession years, state funding for adult schools dropped from about $750 million a year to about $350 million a year. In 2013, adult school funding was frozen at $350 million a year. While other branches of education have had their funding restored and increased as the state’s economy recovered, adult schools struggle with chronic underfunding, falling behind as costs of labor and materials rise, and unable to recover from the ravages of the recession.

The state needs to increase funding for adult schools for the 2018-2019 school year. There is absolutely no excuse for underfunding this vital resource for a full decade. It has always been the mission of California’s adult schools to educate the state’s most vulnerable and hardest to serve populations, but as a result of “adult education reform” measures that were instituted in 2013, students with low levels of literacy are increasingly concentrated in adult schools. To underfund adult schools is to underfund the education of adults who need basic literacy skills. These students need more resources in order to succeed, not less. They often need help with transportation, child care and access to social services as well as excellent teaching, access to technology (which many cannot get outside of school) and well run, adequately resourced schools. They should not be trapped in an underfunded, struggling system. That is why Increased funding for adult schools is a social justice issue.

Students who need to acquire basic literacy are increasingly concentrated in adult schools because of the Regional Consortia system of collaboration between community colleges and adult schools that was part of the adult education reform measures of 2013. Under the consortium system, adult schools and community colleges were supposed to divide up the work of educating the adults in their region. In many regions, the consortia have decided that the community college should concentrate on educating the more advanced students, leaving it to the adult schools to bring less advanced students up to speed. So community colleges in some regions are dropping remedial classes and levels of English as a Second Language below Intermediate, for example. This is a logical way to divide up the work, but it is also unfair to less advanced students as long as adult school funding remains so inadequate and limited as compared to community college funding.

It is harder, not easier, to educate less advanced adult students. It takes time and patience to teach the basics even to the adults who have the fewest barriers to learning. Then you have to take into account that adults who need to acquire basic literacy skills include traumatized war refugees living on small government stipends who came to the U.S. with little or no English, students who want to finish high school but had a bad experience with school the first time, students held back by undiagnosed learning issues, or simply adults with family and work responsibilities that keep interrupting their education. Many of these students come to school with serious doubts about their own ability to learn.   They are just as capable of learning as that typical community college student, the graduate of a U.S. high school, who comes all ready to do homework, take notes and understand textbook jargon — but they are going to need help to get there. It isn’t realistic to expect to educate them on the cheap while throwing money at students who face fewer challenges. Yet this is what the state of California has done, year after year.

The state budget for 2018-2019 will come out in January, and budget decisions are being made now. We need to write to the governor and to our legislators, and tell them that another year without a budget increase for adult schools is simply unacceptable and a disservice to the state’s most vulnerable adult students. We shouldn’t accept arguments about impending budgetary doom or the need for fiscal responsibility. The state has found funding to make the first year of community college free and expand community college non-credit programs while making austerity arguments against increasing adult school funding even by a miniscule amount. The expansion of community college services is an excellent thing, but the state needs to give some attention to those adults who are not ready for community college.

Adult school funding now comes through the Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG); AEBG funds are shared by all members of the consortia, including the community colleges, and there is a portion of the AEBG that is earmarked for adult schools. It is this amount that needs to be increased, though an overall increase would of course be a good thing too. A sample letter appears below. Copy your state assembly member and senator too; you can find their addresses here


Governor Jerry Brown

C/O State Capitol, Suite 1173

Sacramento, CA 95814


Dear Governor Brown:

I am writing to request that an increase in the Adult Education Block Grant funding that is earmarked for adult schools be included in the state budget for 2018-2019. Adult schools have been struggling to educate some of the state’s most vulnerable adult students on inadequate funding since 2008, and it’s time they got some relief. To deny adequate funding to adult schools of funds is to deny their students an education. A failure to help all California’s adults achieve basic literacy is ultimately harmful to the state.

Since the creation of the Regional Consortia in 2013, the task of providing basic literacy education to adults has been concentrated in adult schools even more than in the past. As community colleges drop remedial programs to concentrate on educating the more advanced students, adult schools are increasingly left with the students who need more help. It is unfair to underfund the very system that is charged with helping beginning level students and students who need remediation to reach their potential. These students deserve as much support as more advanced students who may have fewer barriers to learning, and the system that provides them with an education should be funded accordingly.

I respectfully request that increased funding for adult schools be included in the 2018-2019 budget.



Is the State of California Treating Adult Schools Fairly? “Duplication of Services” and the Expansion of Community College Non-Credit Programs

When it comes to adult schools, the State of California is talking out of both sides of its mouth. On one hand, the state sternly denounces “duplication of effort” between adult schools and community colleges. This alleged duplication is supposedly such a dreadful thing that the state had to restructure all of adult education in 2013, in part to address it. Community colleges and adult schools were placed in consortia and commanded to come together to find ways to stamp out duplication. But now the state is actively encouraging the community colleges to do what adult schools do by expanding their non-credit programs. Adult school teachers, who took the consortia seriously and have worked hard to make them a success, can only shake their heads and wonder if duplication of effort is a sin only when an adult school does it. A strange outcome, since by definition it takes two to duplicate.

Given that adult schools also receive very unequal treatment when it comes to funding, can adult school teachers and the communities they serve be blamed for feeling like the state never intends to give adult schools an even break? Adult school funding plunged between 2008 and 2013 and has been frozen ever since at about half of what adult schools received before the Great Recession. The state seems determined, almost as a matter of principal, never to raise adult school funding again. Last year, adult schools were the only branch of education that did not receive a funding increase. They did not even receive a cost of living increase. Consequently, they fall farther and farther behind as the costs of labor and materials rise. State funding for adult schools is their main source of funding; all other funding they receive is supplemental, and without the state funding, inadequate as it is, they could not survive.

California’s community colleges are underfunded like all branches of education in the state, but they have done much better than adult schools in the past several years. Like adult schools, they suffered budget cuts during the recession years, but in recent years their funding has been restored and even increased. The state has recently taken several steps to help them, including passing legislation to make the first year of community college free. The expansion of non-credit is another way the state is giving them a boost. This is good news for Californians. But adult schools already provide free English as a Second Language and basic literacy instruction to some of the most vulnerable populations in the state, and these services are free for as long as the student needs them, not just the first year. Couldn’t the state give adult schools a little help and encouragement as well?

The elimination of “duplicate services” may sound like a cost-cutting measure, and that may have been the initial idea. But pushing more of adult education into the community colleges will be more expensive, not cheaper. Here is how the state is encouraging community colleges to create and/or expand non-credit programs.

While there are a few community colleges with large non-credit programs, like City College of San Francisco, most community colleges have either very small non-credit programs or no non-credit at all. Until recently, administrators didn’t like them, because the per-pupil funding for non-credit was lower than for credit classes. Financially, it made more sense to run a better-compensated for-credit class than a non-credit class.

Also, some community college unions resisted non-credit because it created a two-tier wage system within the community college. For-credit teachers in community colleges are required to have master’s degrees; non-credit teachers can teach on a bachelor’s degree. They do not even have to have a teaching credential like a K-12 teacher (or an adult school teacher), and are sometimes paid less than a for-credit teacher (but more than an adult school teacher).

Recently the state changed all that, by changing the compensation for non-credit classes. Now the per-pupil compensation for a non-credit class is the same as the compensation for a for-credit class. So the college no longer loses money by running a non-credit class.

A non-credit teacher is still only required to have a bachelor’s degree, and can still be paid less than a non-credit teacher. Some community college unions are resolving this by bargaining for a requirement that all teachers have master’s degrees and be paid at the same rate, but this is on a college-by-college basis.

I hate to argue for adult schools on the basis that they are cheap, because they should be better funded and their teachers should be paid more. But the fact is, they are cheaper. Adult school teachers are paid far less than even a non-credit community college teacher and their compensation could increase significantly without reaching what a non-credit teacher makes.

Adult schools no longer receive per-pupil compensation; they only receive a portion of the Adult Education Block Grant funding that is based on the funding they received in 2013, which is in turn based on a fraction of the per-pupil funding they were receiving way back in 2008 when the state blew up adult school funding. So there is no way increased non-credit community college programs are cheaper than adult school classes.

What other rationale could there be? Is the quality of the instruction supposed to be better? How can that be, when non-credit teachers are only required to have a bachelor’s degree? Undoubtedly most of them are fine teachers, but they are not required to have as many qualifications as an adult school teacher, who must do additional coursework and earn a credential.

Really, there should be no conflict. There are five million Californians in need of basic literacy services, and community colleges and adult schools together serve less than a fourth of them. Free community college and expanded non-credit programs are a step in the right direction, but they should not come at the expense of adult schools, who also perform a vital service and make important contributions to California’s education system. California needs to support and expand its adult schools along with the rest of its education system, starting with a funding increase for adult schools in next year’s budget.

Openings for Adult School Teachers at West Contra Costa Adult Education


There are several openings for teachers at West Contra Costa Adult Education (Richmond, California area).  Please spread the word!

CTE Teacher


CTE Welding Teacher


Adult Basic Education Teacher


ESL Teacher




ESL Job Openings in LA


Were you disappointed when CBET went away?

Do you miss teaching adults English contextualized for helping their children succeed in school?

The LAUSD Family Success Initiative is opening classes at K-8 schools around Los Angeles to bring these important, immigrant integration classes back.

If you or an ESL teacher is looking for extra hours during the morning, please consider the job postings:


A Row of Teacups

An adult school teacher in our program retired this year. Her subject was English as a Second Language. She had certainly earned a peaceful retirement after a long and distinguished career, but I can’t help wondering if   she might have stayed  a little longer if adult school had not become such a tense place to work over the past eight years.  Adult schools have been chronically underfunded since  the Great Recession of 2008; for some reason, the state decided not to restore their funding when funding for other branches of education was restored and even increased. In addition to the constant lack of money, adult schools now are increasingly threatened by the demands of charter schools for space. Through the attendant cuts and displacements, adult school teachers have struggled to hold it together for their students.  I guess she just got tired. She won’t be easy to replace, as adult schools, like all other schools in the U.S. are struggling with a teacher shortage.

Like most adult school teachers, she is diligent, conscientious and self-sacrificing. After her last day of teaching, she spent several unpaid days cleaning out her classroom to make sure it would be nice for the next teacher.  As she was cleaning up, she came by the English as a Second Language office and asked if we could use her break time supplies. On her last day of cleaning, she left them with us.

So now we have them, a row of teacups.  Carefully cleaned, bright and shiny, and lovingly arranged on a tray, the form a stark contrast to their surroundings.  The corridors of our building are piled high with ancient office equipment and school supplies, surrounded by yellow caution tape. The piles have been there for months, because the adult school has had to move out of half of our main building to make way for a new program the district needed to start.  Because charter schools have taken all other available space, there was nowhere else for the district to put it.  Next year the adult school will have to move out completely as the new program grows. We will move to the adult school’s one remaining building, which is located across town and far away from the communities that need the adult school most,  unless a charter school has taken that building as well. School board members and district personnel alike have repeatedly told us that this may happen, and that we have to be prepared for the adult school to be completely decentralized in the future.

The ESL office, where we had to struggle to find space for the teacups, is also in disarray. It has been that way for two years, since we had to move from the other building (yes, the one we may be moving back to, if it is still there), again because another district program was displaced by a charter and the district needed our space.   Because the adult school budget is so tight, there was no money to help us organize our new space or modify it so we could organize all the books and materials we had to bring from our former, much larger, space.  We are still mostly in boxes, and the few items we were able to put into storage spaces in our current building have now also been moved into our office, as the new program took over all of the space that was being used for storage.  The office supports 35 ESL classes and about 26 teachers.  It isn’t easy for them to locate the materials they need for their classes.

Whenever I see the row of teacups, I am reminded that I work in an environment where anything that is orderly feels strangely out of place. I know the importance of those teacups and why they are so well taken care of.  With these cups, the students shared the tasks of preparing and serving each other refreshments.  They drank from these cups as they tried to socialize in their new language and worked at forging connections among their different cultures and customs. With these cups, they created community.  This community is the heart and soul of any successful ESL class; it is as important as good teaching and good curriculum.

Tomorrow is the first day of school.  Teachers have been coming into the ESL office on their own time for the last two weeks, getting ready.  Somehow, they will find the supplies they need in our jumble of an office.  They will go into their classrooms and somehow leave behind the chronic scarcity, the chaos, and the uncertainty about the future. They will create an orderly and inviting place for their students to learn and become a community of learners.   I don’t know how long they will be able to do this, but, given their determination, it will probably be right up until the last door closes on the last adult school class in the state of California.

Advocating for Adult Schools: Ideas from California Council for Adult Education

California Council for Adult Education has issued a call to action for adult school advocates.  Their most recent Legislative Update speaks of “rising tensions” in Sacramento because adult schools are having trouble documenting their successes and some of the consortia have not spent all their money.  Legislators don’t seem to be taking into account that the eight year freeze on adult school funding is hurting adult schools, making it difficult for them to devote resources to collecting the data the legislature demands while continuing to serve their students. The legislature also needs to be held accountable for failing to fix the wildly unequal situation adult schools found themselves in at the end of the recession.  Comparing consortia with vastly different resources to each other is unfair and irresponsible.  Why isn’t the situation of Sweetwater Adult School, which will serve 1,000  fewer students this year due to budget restraints, considered an important piece of data?  It’s the most important datum of all.  Legislators need to look up from their spread sheets and take a good, hard look at what they have done to adult schools. It’s right in front of their faces. They need to hear from adult school students, teachers and advocates.  A link to the CCAE update, with suggestions for action, is here:


An Article that Gets it Right about Adult Schools: Flat Funding Is a Disaster for Sweetwater Adult Education and All California Adult Schools

The following article about drastic cuts at Sweetwater Adult School accurately describes a funding crisis that affects all California adult schools. “Flat state funding” that has been “frozen at recession era levels”, as described in the article, is the problem, and, as the director of Sweetwater explains in the article, the flat funding actually functions as a cut that gets worse every year. Considering that adult school funding fell precipitously from 2009 to 2013, and then froze at 2013 levels, all adult schools are struggling to pay the bills as costs rise and their funding stays the same. If something is not done soon, there may be many Sweetwaters.

Note that Sweetwater is having to cut its classes by 10% even though its district, Sweetwater Union High School District, is devoting some funding to the adult school. Without the district’s assistance, the adult school program would have to be cut by 25%. Not all districts are willing to devote some of their funding to help out their adult schools. The Board of Education at the adult school where I teach, West Contra Costa Unified, has voted not to give the adult school any money to supplement the inadequate state funding the adult school receives.

This needs to be an election issue in California. The governor and the legislature broke adult schools, and only they can fix it. There is an election coming up next year. Find out what your representative’s position on adult schools is. Let your representatives know you care about it, and that the status quo is not working. Ask about it at candidates’ forums. Find out what gubernatorial candidates think about adult education. Write letters and make phone calls letting your representatives know that what is happening at Sweetwater is unacceptable, and that it is up to them to make sure this doesn’t happen to more adult schools.

Thanks to KPBS news for a great article, which you can read here:


‘Slow Strangulation’ Of Adult Ed Will Mean 1,000 Fewer Students For Sweetwater

Monday, June 26, 2017

By Megan Burks

Photo by Matthew Bowler / KPBS

Above: Students practice checking one another’s blood pressure in a career-technical class at San Ysidro Adult School, part of Sweetwater Adult Education, April 27, 2017.

The Sweetwater Union High School District is expected to approve its budget of more than $450 million Monday. The district has largely averted cuts, but its adult program will have to serve a thousand fewer students next year.

Sweetwater Adult School is cutting its classes by 10 percent. They include parenting, English-language, citizenship and career-technical courses. The budget gap reflects years of flat state funding for adult education and rising pension costs.

“It’s like a slow strangulation of the program,” Sweetwater Adult Education Director Ryan Burke said. “Everything costs more, so one by one we’re having to cut classes to pay the bills.”

RELATED: Proposed Rule Change For Adult ESL Classes Could Impact Children

Sweetwater Union has used its general fund to backfill some of the need, and is expected to do the same next year. Burke said without the district’s help, a quarter of classes would have to go.

“Yes the district is able to help and they are helping. But they’re also responsible for paying for (middle and high school) education,” Burke said. “Any dollar they commit to us is another dollar they don’t have for 7-12.”

Adult education funding has been frozen at recession-era levels as the legislature and schools work to restructure the system, which developed as a patchwork across K-12 districts and community colleges. Advocates like Burke say it is time to look at funding again.

“The Division of Adult Education provides a safety net to families who need a GED or need to improve their English skills to get their first job or look for a better job,” said teacher Erica Dibello-Hitta. “They also offer short-term career classes that are much more affordable than those at private colleges. A loss of any classes would hurt our community.”

Federal funding makes up a much smaller portion of adult school funding but could also be in jeopardy. President Donald Trump has said he’d like to cut career-technical education by $168 million. The House this week passed a generous reauthorization bill for career-technical education spending. It’s unclear if it will pass the Senate, or if the president would sign it.