Adult education programs need more money to help neediest Californians

Adult education students protested program cuts by the Sacramento City Unified School District in 2012.
Adult education students protested program cuts by the Sacramento City Unified School District in 2012. Sacramento Bee file

Gov. Jerry Brown should be applauded for his tireless efforts to give our public schools more decision-making in how they use state funds. But his job is not done.

Hundreds of thousands of Californians are relying on the governor to include a reliable funding source in next year’s state budget so our schools can continue to provide critical adult education. At stake are programs in more than 238 school districts where adults learn to read, write and speak English or earn a high school diploma.

In many cases, the students are among the neediest of Californians – poor, homeless, unemployed or immigrants seeking a better life. They are exactly the kind of students Brown sought to help and protect when he pushed through his bold Local Control Funding Formula, which dedicated more money to students in need.

Unfortunately, funding for K-12-based adult education was slashed during the recession. In 2009, the Legislature allowed school districts to use adult education money for other school services. The result was catastrophic. More than 70 adult schools across the state have closed since 2010; more than 40 have had their budgets cut by more than 50 percent. Overall state funding for K-12 adult education dropped from roughly $750 million to about $300 million in the current budget year.

Thankfully, the state’s economy has recovered, but lawmakers have failed to restore funding for adult education to pre-recession levels – not even close. In the current budget, it’s less than half of what it was in 2007-08.

Yet Californians need adult education services more than ever. The gap between haves and have-nots continues to grow; poverty rates are close to 25 percent while incomes of the wealthy are higher than they have ever been in our state.

Programs provided by K-12 adult schools are a key way to expand economic opportunity and combat poverty. Our schools have offered these much needed programs for more than a century. They want to continue to do so.

To better provide adult education services into the future, lawmakers in 2013 directed community colleges and K-12 schools to form regional groups and coordinate the variety of classes offered in a community. We recognize the value in the collaboration sought by the Brown administration to re-envision adult education and renew and expand it for the most marginalized members of our society.

Our disagreement rests with the way the administration intends to fund our joint venture. Specifically, the administration has signaled it intends to provide adult education funding directly to the recently formed regional groups, which are still developing comprehensive plans.

We fear that is the wrong approach. Directing money only to these groups fails to give K-12 school districts the clarity they need to plan their adult education programs and finalize their own budgets. It will also add another layer of bureaucracy that threatens to disrupt and delay funds to local schools, not to mention waste precious resources in administration.

Without secured funding in the January budget, K-12 schools will be required by law to issue layoff notices on March 15. And they will once again be forced to choose between groups of students. We know from experience that will only devastate adult education services. We can’t afford for more K-12 adult schools to close.

Supporting programs such as K-12 adult education can make the difference between a life of poverty and one filled with opportunity. They support our regional economies, workforce development, healthy families and the future of our children. Research shows that better educated parents raise better educated, more successful children who are less likely to end up in poverty or prison.

The risk is too great for us not to act. Gov. Brown and legislators can take an important step this year to preserve access to K-12 adult education by guaranteeing funding for these critical programs. Doing so will send the message that California is serious about helping immigrants, the unemployed and others in need of vital state services.

Alice Quan Yoshioka is a member of the California Council of Adult Education and a business and computer education teacher in the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District in Los Angeles County.