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.








Support California Proposition 55 to Support ALL Schools (Including Adult School)

Proposition 55 extends the Proposition 30 taxes that pulled California’s schools out of a financial crisis.  A report by the California Budget  and Policy Center on how Proposition 30 affected California’s schools is out, and the news is good.  Proposition 30 allowed the state to raise per pupil spending and  reduce student/teacher ratios, and the 1% is paying most of the taxes that fund these improvements.  In case you feel bad for the 1%, they are one of only two groups that experienced an increase in their average income over the past generation.  The other group that experienced an increase? The top 5%! Everyone else experienced a decrease.  It’s all in the report, and you can read it here:

We need to pass Proposition 55 because it is the right thing to do for California’s children.  We can’t go back to the days of wild swings and drastic drops in school funding. The state still doesn’t spend enough on education, and this should be declared a national emergency when you consider how many children live in this most populous of all the 50 states.  But Proposition 30 was a step in the right direction, and Proposition 55 would be another step.

As the report states, Proposition 30 helped the state reinvest in preschools, K-12 schools, and community colleges.  One branch of education that did not receive any direct benefit from Proposition 30 was adult school, and adult schools will not receive any direct benefit from Proposition 55.  Still, passing Proposition 55 is the best thing we could do for adult schools right now.  Adult schools were almost wiped out by the  drastic Great Recession  budget cuts that Proposition 30 was designed to correct.  While adult schools have not been restored to the (quite modest) level of funding they had before the Great Recession, they do now have their own funding source in the Adult Education Block Grant, and they are slowly beginning to crawl out of the abyss that opened up under them in 2008.

A drop in tax revenues for schools could stop the recovery of adult schools in its tracks.  The much weakened adult schools could be finished off for good if the state faces another crisis in education funding.  For children and adult learners alike, we need to pass Proposition 55.

And then we need to ask the state to put more money for adult schools in next year’s budget.





CCAE Legislative Update On AB 1846

California Council for Adult Education (CCAE)  has released  an update on legislation affecting California adult schools, which is reproduced below. As you will see, most of the bills are dead for 2016, except for SCR 116 (Mendoza) declaring April 3-9 2016 as Adult Education Week and AB 1846 (Lopez), which has a hearing in Senate Appropriations this coming Monday, August 1.

As the CCAE update explains, AB 1846 in its original form would have added an additional $250 million to the Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG), making some much-needed additional funding available to adult schools.  The funding has been stripped from the bill, which has now been amended to provide that each consortium must include information about how AEBG funds are insufficient to meet the education needs of the adult population in the consortium area.  While the change to the bill is disappointing to the underfunded adult school community, the bill is still worth supporting, since documentation of the unmet needs of adult learners may lead to increased funding in the future.

That said, it is very frustrating that the Legislature and Administration want to observe the AEBG and the consortia for at least another year before even considering more funding.  This assures that adult schools will languish with inadequate funding for at least a decade. What do the Administration and Legislature hope to observe, other than the effects of their irresponsible behavior on a struggling institution which they damaged and then refused to restore?  The damage began during a crisis when everyone suffered, but continued for years after the state’s economy recovered and other institutions had their funding restored and even increased.  The money is there, but the state seems to prefer to keep adult schools on barely adequate life support.  We can only hope that adult schools get a little relief before the next recession hits.  Under the current system, adult schools are very fragile, and could be swept away by the next financial storm.

Thanks to CCAE and CAEAA for supporting AB 1846.  Let’s all keep working to restore adult education funding.


The CCAE Legislative Update follows:

Adult Education Update


Current law requires the chancellor and the Superintendent to submit to the Director of Finance, the State Board of Education, and the Legislature, by September 30 following any year for which funds are appropriated for the Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG) Program, a report about the use of specified funds and outcomes for adults statewide and in each adult education region. this bill would require that report to also include a summary, based upon a review of the annual adult education plan for each consortium, of the extent to which funds from the program provided to each consortium, in combination with other funds available to the consortium and other entities that provide education and workforce services for adults in the region, were insufficient to address the adult education demands within the service area of the consortium.


Notes:  As originally introduced, the bill would have added $250 million to the AEBG; however, the Legislature and Administration prefers to have at least one more year under the AEBG framework before adding more resources to the pot of funding.

Status: Pending hearing in Senate Appropriations on 8/1



Current law requires the Superintendent of Public Instruction to issue a high school equivalency certificate and an official score report, or an official score report only, to a person who has not completed high school and who meets specified requirements, including, among others, having taken all or a portion of a general education development test that has been approved by the State Board of Education. Commencing January 1, 2019, this bill would prohibit the department from approving or renewing approval of a contractor or testing center to administer the tests described above unless the contractor or testing center provides those tests in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

Position:  Concerns

Notes:  CCAE and CAEAA had concerns with the bill as initially introduced as it would have required HSE testing to be developed in multiple non-English languages.  Members were concerned about the costs associated with translation, equivalency, and more particularly with so little funding already available to adult schools for maintaining programming and services.  While the bill was scaled back to focus merely on English, Spanish and Vietnamese, the bill was ultimately held in Senate Education as a result of concerns regarding the necessity of translation and feasibility of such.

Status: Held in Senate Education, Dead for 2016



Would create the CalWORKs Educational Opportunity and Attainment Program to provide CalWORKs recipients with a monthly education incentive grant of $100 for attainment of a high school diploma or its equivalent, $200 for attainment of an associate’s degree or career technical education program, or $300 for attainment of a bachelor’s degree, if the educational program was completed while the recipient was receiving CalWORKs assistance. The bill would require the education incentive grant to be provided on an ongoing basis if the recipient meets certain eligibility criteria.


Status: Held on the Assembly Appropriations Committee Suspense File, Dead for 2016



Current law, Existing law requires the chancellor and the Superintendent, with the advice of the executive director, to approve, for each consortium, rules and procedures that adhere to prescribed conditions. This bill would give a consortium member the right to submit an appeal to the Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG) Appeals Board, which the bill would establish and that would consist of the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the Executive Director of the State Board of Education.


Status: Held in the Assembly Higher Education Committee, Dead for 2016



This bill would proclaim the week of April 3, 2016, to April 9, 2016, inclusive, as Adult Education Week, and would honor the teachers, administrators, classified staff, and students of adult education programs statewide for their efforts, persistence, and accomplishments.


Status: Chaptered by the Secretary of State


We Need to Serve 5 Million

California is home to 5.2 million adults who have less than a high school education, and community colleges and adult schools combined have only ever been able to serve about one-fifth of them. That figure should be the north star that guides all adult education policy in California,the goal of reaching all 5.2 million the mark we know we all need to strive for. But so far this has not been the case.  Currently the state is in the midst of reforming the adult education system, and is shining the bright light of scrutiny on all adult education activities, demanding data, data, data. But the  3.5 million unserved adults remain in the shadows, rarely mentioned, though the shocking size of their numbers is the most important datum of all.

The  2012 Legislative Analyst’s Report  “Restructuring California’s Adult Education System”, one of the chief documents guiding the current reform measures,  noted that adult schools and community colleges together served about 1.5 million students in 2009-2010.  That was the first year after the fiscal crisis in California had begun to take its toll on community colleges and adult schools, but long before its ravages were complete.  Over the next several years, both systems continued to suffer, and the number of students they were able to serve continued to drop.  Adult schools were particularly hard hit.  The state in essence defunded them, throwing them on the mercy of their school districts.  Some adult schools closed down completely, most suffered severe cuts. When the recession was over and the state began to recover, the state restored and even increased community college funding, but froze adult school funding at the abysmal level it had fallen to by 2013.  There it remains today, so the adult education system of 2016 still has not recovered the capacity it had in 2009-10, a time when educational services were still reaching only about one-fifth of the adults who needed them.

In the midst of the recession and the attendant cuts and budget chaos, the state began making plans to “reform” the adult education system.  But the focus of the “reform” was not the 3.5 million and counting Californians who were going without basic education services. Instead, the state chose to dither  over “duplication of services” between adult schools and community colleges.  In other words, in the midst of this tremendous, and increasing, dearth of services, we somehow had too many services!  And these extra services had to be stamped out!

Never much more than a Republican talking point adopted by Democrats who wanted to look tough (and oh, how tough they could look stomping all over the nearly powerless adult schools and their marginalized and vulnerable students!), “duplication of services” was never very well defined.  After all, to people who just don’t like the idea of public services at all, the mere fact that both adult schools and community colleges   teach adults might be seen as an unacceptable “duplication of services.”  The significant differences in the way the two institutions serve students would not matter, nor would the fact that between the two of them they aren’t doing  nearly enough to serve all the Californians who need basic literacy services..

With little guidance as to what the offending duplication actually was, adult schools and community colleges, now mandated to work together in consortia to ,among other things, eliminate “duplication”, put themselves through contortions to avoid this fearsome and yet ill-defined monster. It is heart-rending to sit through meetings about the consortia, listening  to community college and adult school teachers alike talking in determined and yet uncertain tones about the things they  are doing to avoid “duplication of services”.  They sound rather like children who have been punished for an infraction they don’t understand but want to make sure they don’t commit again.  Because the nature of the duplication was never  clearly explained, everyone has their own definition.  All this agony over a non-problem, while the very real problem of lack of services goes unaddressed!

It should be noted that the State of California does not seem to be concerned about duplication of services in any other context.  While the consortia spin their wheels trying to eliminate duplication, the state is busily working on legislation to allow community colleges to award 4-year degrees in some fields.  The state is also encouraging community colleges to expand their non-credit programs, the very programs that look most like adult school programs and may have led to the idea that adult schools and community colleges are duplicating services in the first place.  Not that any of this is necessarily  bad.  But why is there so much concern about one kind of  (very vaguely defined) “duplication of services” between adult schools and community colleges,  while duplication is encouraged in other areas?  The state is being highly inconsistent about this, to say the least.

The whole thing might just be a kind of comedy of errors if the stakes weren’t so high for adult schools and the students they serve.  The state has very unfairly thrown the burden of making the consortium “partnerships” work onto adult schools.  All state funding for adult schools now comes through the Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG), and the block grant money only comes to adult schools that are in consortia with their community colleges.  By contrast, community colleges still have their own funding, quite a lot of funding compared to what adult schools had in even the best of times, which is not dependent on their being in the consortia at all.

The total amount of the AEBG is $500 million; which is $250 million less than was spent on adult schools alone before the financial crash of 2008. Out of that $500 million, only  $350 is dedicated to adult schools.  This $350 million represents the rock-bottom amount that was being spent on adult schools in 2014, when the legislation creating the AEBG was drafted.  The rest is available to the consortia to spend however they see fit. It might be spent on an adult school program, a community college program, or a collaboration between the two. But the amount of guaranteed funding for adult schools is no more than the deeply inadequate amount that was being spent on them at the end of  six long years of unlimited cuts to adult school budgets. Adult school funding fell steeply between 2009 and 2013, and then stagnated.  So far,the AEBG locks in the stagnation.  The state has no plans to increase the AEBG next year.

Yet it is up to the badly underfunded adult schools to make the consortia work.  The consortia are supposed to be a collaboration between adult schools and community colleges, but structurally the relationship is wildly unequal.  One partner, the community colleges, participates in the consortia only by choice and has adequate funding independent of what it receives through the consortium.  The other partner, the adult schools, is completely dependent on the consortia for survival.  Since the consortia are a collaboration, they can only succeed if the two parties work together.  But one party has practically nothing at stake, while the other will perish if the collaboration fails to meet state expectations.  Somehow the state has decided that holding the adult schools hostage to the consortia is the best way to make these “partnerships” work.  The engine of reform, apparently, is to be the desperation of the weaker party to the enterprise, whose wild scrambling for survival will somehow move adult education in California forward.

It is in the context of this grim struggle to survive that the state’s excuse for refusing to increase the Adult Education Block Grant for next year must be understood. The chief argument one hears is that the state wants to “see how the consortia work out”.  If the state likes the way the consortia are going, they might increase the AEBG for 2017-2018.

This is like putting a man on a diet of one slice of bread a week and saying, “Let’s see how he does on that.  If he does well on that slice for a month, maybe  we’ll give him two slices a week.” Everyone knows how that experiment would work out; the man would not show improvement; he would decline.  He would never earn that extra slice of bread, and would eventually die of hunger. His fault for not using that one slice of bread well.

Institutions are not so different.  If the state wants to see how well adult schools do on inadequate funding, it has had eight long years to observe the phenomenon.  What more do they need to see?  Wouldn’t the state like to see what we could do with a little more funding for a change?

Data, data, data.  The state wants to measure the hunger.  Could you give us measurements as to how far your bones are protruding through your flesh?  The state would like to see waiting lists for our classes to prove that there is a need.

We can give you waiting lists, but you know your waiting list, California.  The waiting list is 3.5 million.  Why does that generate no sense of urgency?  They may not be on waiting lists for adult education classes because the only adult school in their area closed, but they are waiting.

Ironically, there is one increase to adult education in the Governor’s May Revise of the 2016 budget: a one time, $5 million, allocation for technical support to the consortia.  No additional money for services, for classes and teachers, just some money to help the consortia tweak their bureaucracies a little more.  $5 million dollars–that’s one dollar for every person in the state who needs adult education services, the 1.5 million or so who are receiving services and the 3.5 million who wait.

A few steps have been taken towards the ones who are waiting.  A few adult schools have been reopened, mostly because the community colleges in their consortia have generously given up their portion of the consortium money to fund the reopening.  But not every community college will be able to afford to do this; the consortia do impose some costs on the community colleges, after all.  While some community colleges have behaved very handsomely and deserve to be commended for their foresight, the power of the community colleges alone to revive adult schools in California is limited.

Another important step is AB 1846 (Lopez), which would increase the Adult Education Block Grant by $250 million.  The aim of the bill is to restore the funding available to adult schools to something like what it was before the financial crisis of 2008, when the state spent about $750 million on adult schools.  This bill, if it passes, will be an excellent beginning to  reviving adult education services in California and eventually providing basic literacy services to all the adults in California who need them.

Five million Californians need adult education services. Providing services for them must be our goal.  Let’s set a course and go.










AB 1846 Hearing May 11

AB 1846 (Lopez), a bill that would increase the Adult Education Block Grant by $250 million, goes to a hearing in the Assembly Appropriations Committee this coming Wednesday, May 11 at 9:00 AM in Room 4202 in the Capitol Building in Sacramento.  The merits of this bill as to its financial impact will be heard at this time.  It is likely to be placed in a suspense file, like any bill with a cost of $150,000 or more.  There will be a suspense hearing later in the month, and if the bill passes out of that hearing it will go to the assembly floor.

Supporters of adult education are needed to attend this hearing and voice their support for the bill.  It is particularly important for adult school students to attend and ask legislators to support the bill. It may not be possible for attendees to state more than their name and organization and their support for the bill, but it is important that legislators see that the bill has a lot of support.

The Chair of the Appropriations Committee is Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez.  Her address is State Capitol, P.O. Box 942849 and her phone number is (916) 319-2080.

You can view a fact sheet about AB 1846 at


Anyone Can Teach Adult School? The Fate of Credential Requirements for Adult School Teachers

In 2012, in a report entitled “Restructuring California’s Adult Education System”, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) recommended that the State of California no longer require adult school teachers to hold a credential. While it is strange to see a recommendation to actually relax standards in a document devoted to suggesting ways to improve adult education in California, it’s right there on page 21 of the report. The reason given is that teachers could move more easily between adult school and community college jobs without the adult school credential requirement.

AB 104, the law that creates the Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG) provides, in section 84906, that in order to receive AEBG funding,  the  regional consortia between community colleges and adult schools must approve a plan that addresses, among other things,  “Qualifications of instructors, including common standards across entities that provide education and workforce services to adults.”  However, certain instructor qualifications are set by law, and cannot be changed unless the laws are changed.

By July of this year, the California Department of Education and Community College Chancellor’s Office are required to make recommendations regarding credentials for adult education teachers. Their recommendations will come out in the midst of a statewide teacher shortage that is affecting adult education as much as it affects K-12, so the need for credentialing  reform is keenly felt.  But while the credentialing system for adult education in California is byzantine and in need of reform, the abolition of the adult school credential risks a deprofessionalization and deskilling of the adult school teaching force that would be a step backward for adult education in California, not an improvement. The state needs to reform adult education credentialing in a way that assures that quality instruction for adult students will continue.

The teacher shortage has led to some lively discussion about the need to reform adult school teacher credentialing on the Adult Education Matters blog.  Several participants mentioned a contradiction that may primarily affect English as a Second Language (ESL) programs: teachers with a Masters in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and even experience teaching ESL at a community college cannot teach in an adult school without earning an adult school credential.

It is both costly and time consuming to attain an adult school credential.  The teacher must pay for and pass the CBEST test, plus take an expensive class in adult pedagogy.  For a teacher who has already put in the time and money to get a master’s degree in the field, the requirements are certainly burdensome, especially when the job at the end of the process is likely to be part-time and poorly paid.

This is not the only credentialing anomaly in the ESL field. There is an ESL Certificate available which is also expensive and takes about a year and a half of coursework.  It is excellent preparation for teaching ESL to adults, but it is completely separate from the adult school credential one must earn to actually teach.

Even if the issue of credentialing affected ESL alone, it would be no small matter for adult schools.  ESL is the largest program in most adult schools, and adult schools do the heavy lifting when it comes to teaching English to California’s large immigrant population.  Adult schools provide more ESL instruction than community college credit and noncredit programs combined.

Certainly the requirement that teachers with a master’s in TESOL get an adult school credential is illogical and needs to be addressed.  This could be done by including the master’s in TESOL as an alternate qualification to teach ESL in an adult school.  The same could be done for the ESL certificate.

But this is not the type of reform the LAO had in mind.  The recommendation in the 2012 LAO report was to “No longer require instructors at adult schools to hold a teaching credential so that adult education faculty can teach at both adult schools and community colleges.” (“Restructuring California’s Adult Education System,” page 21.)

The LAO recommendation oversimplifies the actual effect of abolishing the credentialing requirement for adult school teachers.  Abolition of the adult school credential would certainly eliminate the problem of community college teachers with master’s degrees having to do additional coursework to teach adult school.  In addition,  noncredit community college teachers, who only need a bachelor’s degree, would  be able to teach adult school classes, as would anyone else with a bachelor’s degree, whether they had community college noncredit experience of not. Adult school teachers would be able to teach noncredit community college classes, as they can now, since teachers cannot earn an adult school credential without a bachelor’s degree.  But unless they hold master’s degrees, adult school teachers would not be able to teach in community college for credit classes.

In other words, the movement between the two programs is one way.  All community college teachers , indeed, anyone with a bachelor’s degree, would gain access to adult school teaching jobs. But adult school teachers would have no more access to community college jobs than they have now.

What the LAO is really after is an equivalency between non-credit community college and adult school programs.  While state policy makers generally complain about adult school and community college systems being too similar (duplication), here they seem to take issue with the fact that the two systems are different. Community college noncredit teachers are only required to have a bachelor’s degree, they reason, so the qualifications for adult school teachers should be the same.  Perhaps the LAO is a bit embarrassed, too, to find that non-credit community college teachers make more than adult school teachers, even though adult school teachers have to have the additional qualification of a credential.  However, abolition of the credential will do nothing to raise adult school teachers pay to the level of a non-credit community college teacher. It doesn’t ever seem to work that way.

The LAO does not seem to  have thought about abolition of the adult school credential in terms of the number of jobs that would suddenly require less in the way of qualifications, but it is worthwhile to do so.  A chart on page 11 of the LAO report shows that community college non-credit classes are by far the smallest part of the adult education pie, accounting for only 14% of all adult education.  Community college credit classes, which are really a very different animal from both adult school and community college noncredit classes, make up 52%; to teach those classes, you need a master’s degree. Adult schools make up 34%.

Abolition of the adult school credential would take the number of adult education classes that could be taught by anyone with a bachelor’s degree from 14% to 48%,or almost half.  Could this really be done without affecting the quality of instruction for adults?

There are other complications, too.  Adult schools offer High School Diploma programs, in which adults can take high school subjects to complete their secondary degrees.  K-12 high school classes are taught by credentialed teachers; how could a high school subject taught by an adult school teacher who lacks a credential be truly equivalent?

Adult Basic Education (ABE), another adult school subject, is the equivalent of an elementary school education for adults.  Again, elementary school subjects in K-12 are taught by credentialed teachers. Adults in ABE classes may be there because they had trouble grasping the material the first time, in elementary school.  They need more skillful instruction, not less. Why would we want them to  be taught by a teacher with fewer qualifications than an elementary school teacher?

Coming back to ESL, this is a field that has had to fight its way up from the assumption that anyone who can speak English can teach it. Anyone who has actually taught ESL knows how wrong this is.  A good grounding in how language learning works, and in how adult language learning is different from language learning in children, is essential. ESL teachers manage classrooms full of students from different cultures that may come in conflict with each other, or with the teacher’s own cultural expectations and assumptions; these teachers need training in cross-cultural communication.  As an ESL teacher, I use what I learned in the Linguistics class I feared but came to love every day.  I have a BA, and an MA, too – both in English Literature. And I use Shakespeare – well, I love Shakespeare, but I use Shakespeare not so much.

No doubt the LAO meant well when it made its recommendation to abolish the adult school credential. But in the context of the execrable treatment the state has meted out to adult schools over the past eight years, it feels like yet another dismissive gesture, another failure to recognize that what adult school teachers do is important.  You can almost hear someone at the LAO saying, “Adult school credential? Anyone can teach adult school! What do they need a credential for?”

And once the adult school credential is gone, the state will have another excuse to further devalue the work of adult school teachers.  “They aren’t even real teachers,” policymakers will say, “They don’t even have credentials.”  Further reductions in funding, pay cuts and worsening working conditions to follow.

Will it matter that we have the same qualifications as community college noncredit teachers? Probably not.  They have the word “college” in their job titles, which gives them instant prestige. Plus the state seems to be committed to funding community colleges adequately, just as it seems to be committed to underfunding adult schools and perpetually looking for excuses to cut corners for them.

In general, the new regional consortia between adult schools and community colleges have a strong mandate to improve adult education in California.  We are tasked with creating pathways for every student, getting all students college and career ready.  We need to provide wrap-around services, collect more data, and be more accountable.  A recommendation to relax standards for teachers looks completely out of place amidst all this aspiration. Hopefully the Department of Education and the Community College Chancellor’s Office will recognize this and suggest some reasonable reforms of adult education credentialing that don’t include simply dropping the adult education credential.


Why California’s Adult Schools Need More Money

While California’s economy  rebounds, and educational institutions from K-12 schools to universities receive healthy increases in funding, California’s adult schools remain mired in the great recession.  A new bill authored by Assemblywoman Patty Lopez (D-San Fernando), AB 1846, seeks to remedy this situation. AB 1846 would increase the Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG)  by $250 million, returning the amount of funding available to adult schools to roughly  pre-recession levels.  AB 1846 would provide sorely-needed relief to adult schools, which have been woefully underfunded for the last eight years. In addition to hampering the ability of adult schools to provide much needed services to their students, the current inadequate level of funding also locks into place inequalities that are the result of a desperate scramble for survival. As is usually the case in such struggles, the neediest were the losers, while those with more resources fared better. Without better funding, California’s adult schools cannot hope to fulfill their new mandate to serve those most in need, fill gaps in service, and help adults overcome barriers that keep them from accessing educational services.

In 2008, in response to the state budget crisis, the state dissolved the categorical status of adult schools and allowed school districts to use adult school money for any educational purpose (Categorical Flexibility). As a result, funding for adult schools went into a free fall. Between 2008 and 2013,  funding for California’s adult schools was slashed by almost half. Some communities lost their adult schools altogether during this time, while almost every adult school had to drastically cut back its services. The number of adult schools dropped from 620 to 554, a decrease of 11%, and adult schools experienced a 36% drop in enrollment.  (Source: testimony of Natasha Collins, Fiscal and Policy Analyst for the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, at a March 11, 2015 joint hearing of the Assembly Education, Assembly Higher Education and Senate Education Committees.)

For adult schools, the period from 2008 to 2013 was chaotic.  There were practically no rules; most of the laws governing adult schools had been suspended. The survival or demise of adult schools was almost serendipitous. It depended on how badly the school district needed the adult school’s resources, how well the adult school administration got along with the school district, and so on. A change in the school board or a new superintendent could mean the difference between life or death for an adult school. The entire budget of an adult school could be wiped out to fund a superintendent’s pet project. This was the opposite of a carefully planned reallocation of resources to serve those most in need. It was a free for all.

In 2013 the state finally provided some financial stability for adult schools, but just barely. Since 2013, adult school funding has been locked in at about half of what it was before the great recession of 2008: about $350 million, down from $750 million in 2007-2008.  This year, the new Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG)  provides some dedicated state funding for adult schools for the first time since 2008.  However, the amount of the grant that is guaranteed to go to adult schools is the same inadequate $350 million adult schools have been receiving in the form of a Maintenance of Effort since 2013.  This is only enough for adult schools to continue providing services at the much-reduced levels of 2012-2013. It certainly is not enough to restore services or address the inequalities that were exacerbated by the completely unregulated Categorical Flexibility period from 2008 to 2013. The insufficient level of funding guarantees that the recovery of California’s adult schools will be slow and painful, if it happens at all.

The truly ragged and threadbare state of adult school funding is partially concealed by the dedication of adult school teachers. In the district where I teach, there are whole programs where every teacher works as a volunteer through the summer so that services to students will not be interrupted.  Teachers buy their own supplies and otherwise take on the burden of making sure their students are served.  Without their quiet and unrecognized efforts, the sorry state of adult schools in California would be even more starkly apparent.

The full amount of the Adult Education Block Grant is $500 million; $350 million goes directly to school districts to fund adult schools, the remaining $1.5 million is distributed to the new consortia, which include adult schools and community colleges.  The consortia decide how to spend their portion of the $1.5 million. According to testimony from one of the consortia at a recent California Senate Budget  Subcommittee hearing, some consortia are using their portion of the AEBG to bring back their adult schools, even reopening an adult school that closed. These are hopeful signs, but the consortia can only do so much with funding that does not even equal pre-2008 levels. You can view the hearing here:

AB 1846 would greatly improve this situation; a $250 million increase to the AEBG would restore the funding available to  adult schools  to $750 million, which is about the amount the state spent on its adult schools in 2007-2008.  This would allow for some real restoration of adult school services.  All  branches of education  except adult schools were given a substantial funding increase in this year’s state budget.  How can the state justify keeping adult schools, who suffered more than any other branch of education during the recession years, in a state of perpetual want? With six million Californians in need of the basic literacy services adult schools provide, and only 1.5 million served by community colleges and adult schools together, there can be no justification for starving adult schools and leaving their students without services.

Apparently there are some legislators who say they want to see how the consortia are working out before increasing the AEBG.  But the consortia are a collaboration between adult schools and community colleges.  The community colleges have been getting a substantial increase in funding in every state budget over the past several years. It isn’t fair to hold adult schools alone accountable for the success of the consortia.  A system where only one party is held accountable is not a collaboration; it’s a system of subjugation.  The legislature could send a clear message that adult schools and community colleges are equal partners in the consortia by increasing the funding available to adult schools and releasing them from the harsh conditions of austerity they have been forced to endure for the course of eight years.

Legislators have certainly had plenty of time to observe how adult schools function with inadequate funding; eight years should be more than enough.  In case they are still having trouble seeing it, the answer is, we’re doing the best we can, but not as well as we could do with adequate support.  We are determined. We are dedicated.  We will never abandon our students.  But we would like to be able to turn our determination and dedication away from the sheer struggle to survive day to day and towards giving our students  what they need to thrive.  AB 1846 , if it passes, could give us what we need to do that.