(Can you imagine that? Someone asking me to write a shorter version of something?! Ha-ha. Yeah, me, too. Some day... some day! I'll write everything bullet style.)
Things didn't work out the way I expected but I did write something - and in the process, I gained some perspective on our work these past five years. I share it here:
Five years ago, Wall Street crashed, rear-ending Main Street, and running over bodies of public service. In an attempt to stop the bleeding that ensued in our public education system, Schwartzenegger made K12 Adult Schools the blood donors to K12 Districts. Money that had once been protected, earmarked for Adult Education, became “flexible” (available) to keep K12 schools alive. And stay alive they did – while over 70 Adult Schools closed and all Adult Schools shriveled in size and scope.
K12 Adult Schools serve communities which often fly under the radar or live on the fringes of the public mind: immigrants, folks who lack a high school diploma, the unemployed, seniors (an inconvenient truth in a culture that values youth), parents (often viewed as an inconvenience in a culture that values work and adult pleasures over family life), the disabled. Unfortunately, K12 Adult Schools often did the same, as did we who worked there. We were used to getting by with the least, getting paid the least, and serving folks often considered the least by the larger culture. Did we consider them the least? No. But there’s something in the way we responded that indicates that at very least, we questioned our own value or bought into false ideas of what’s valuable. It certainly took us a while to rally in response to the cuts and in retrospect, one has to wonder why.Los Angeles led the way in speaking up. They had the largest program and they led the largest response, students as active as staff. A record of LA activism can be found at SaveAdultEd and their work continues on at UnitedAdult Students. COSAS, Communities Organized in Support of Adult Schools, mobilized early on, too, becoming what I consider to be the Think Tank of the Adult Education Movement. Their work is showcased on the Save Our Adult School blog.
Slowly, many schools mobilized, including my own school, the San Mateo Adult School, with Red Letter Days, rallies, a press conference, a video, and many other actions, most of which are cited on the this blog. Karen Arthur shifted everything when she started the Alliance for California Adult Schools, a site on Facebook where Adult Education communities – teachers, staff, admin, students, and supporters from all over the state can share information, experience, and strategies. A number of petitions circulated, including the one I started, the Rebuild Adult Education petition, an online petition which reached every member of the Legislature and the Governor with each signature and comment. Monty Lish, out of Sweetwater, made a video to rally support for Adult Ed and the petition. LA gathered ten thousand signatures on their own hand-written petition and delivered it in person. Schools around the state held rallies, sent postcards, lit candles, and documented our worth.And CCAE ,the California Council for Adult Education, the only professional organization with its doors open to teachers, administrators, support staff, and students, bumped up its numbers and skillset. With the help of Legislative Analyst Dawn Koepke, it became an important voice for Adult Education in Sacramento and a source of information for us on the ground.
Meantime, things changed – on Wall Street, Main Street, and in the minds of voters. With tremendous help from public educators, including K12 Adult School communities, Prop 30 passed. Thanks to this new funding source specifically earmarked for education, a general increase in state coffers, plus a rising public demand for better public education, the time was right for a change, a fact which Gov. Brown used to create quite a big one (not surprising given the fact Prop 13 went down the first time he was Governor). The new budget is a dramatic shift in how schools are funded. Edsource is the place to go for articles that detail those changes. Here are the bits that pertain to Adult Ed:
1. Adult Ed continues and will continue. With designated funding. And for now, for all programs.
Wait a minute! As of June 22, 2013, I’m not so sure about that. Unless it’s amended, SB 173 maintains 6 categories of Adult Ed, which do not include Older Adults and Parent Ed – and it's up for a hearing this Wednesday, June 26th. Senator Ted Lieu is stepping up in defense of Older Adults. Please visit the page on his website to save Adult Ed for Older Adults and sign his petition (click on the photo in the column on the left that says "Save Adult Ed'). I’ll do my best to keep you updated on this important issue as the situation evolves.
2. The Legislative Trailer Bill includes MOEs for CTE (Career Tech Education) and Adult Education. MOE means "maintenance of effort." That means Districts MUST KEEP Adult Schools open - at the same level of funding as in 2012-13. This is huge and bears repeating: If an Adult School was open in 2012-13, it has to STAY open - and at the same funding level. This means Riverside, Covina, Sweetwater, and any other schools open in 2012 must stay open or re-open. Districts are free to fund their K12 Adult Schools at a higher level. Maybe they will, with increased money flowing in from Prop 30. And maybe not. But we’re a different community than we were before the cuts. This time we won’t sit and wait to be noticed. We’ll assess our needs, which is to say, the needs of the people, and speak up about them. That’s our job. We may have come late to the table. But we’re here now. And we understand why.3. In 2015-16, everything will switch back to ADA, "average daily attendance," the pre-flexibility system.
4. In 2015-16, K12 Adult Schools and Community Colleges and other providers of Adult Education, including correctional facilities, will work together in regional consortia to provide all Adult Education. The two years between now and then are for assessment and planning.5. Every consortium has to have at least one Community College District and at least one K12 School District. Either one of them can be the fiscal agent.
6. Starting in 2015-16, Adult Ed providers must provide Basic Skills, including High School Diploma and GED; ESL; Citizenship and Workforce Prep for Immigrants; Education programs for Adults with Disabilities; Short-term Career Tech Ed with high-income potential; Programs for apprentices.7. Older Adults and Parent Ed are not listed. The Public, the Legislature (Senator Ted Lieu being an important exception), and the Governor do not yet fully grasp the value and necessity of these programs. Our job is to help them do so. Some Older Adults programs may fall under the Adults with Disabilities. Maybe. Each consortium must assess current needs and offerings for Adult Education. Parent Ed and Older Adults are real needs. We must remind California that a strong state needs both strong schools and strong families and while they can and must support each other, they cannot be each other. Adult Ed, in particular through its Parent Education and Older Adults programs, helps families do what only they can do.
9. There will be 500 million dollars in 2015-16 for Adult Education. Designated Funding. The big prize.
What have we learned from this? Much. We’re worth something because we are communities of great worth which are part of a larger community – the state of California – which thrives only when all parts of it are healthy. Flying under the radar doesn’t work.
Worse, it courts death. In part, because it pretends we don’t exist. In part, because it fails to proclaim the worth of who we are and what we do as both teachers and learners. Better: Understanding why we’re valuable. Then speaking up about it, knowing that we are not alone, connecting with the public and the Legislature and the Governor, not as adversaries, but as partners in an effort to create a stronger California.
As I stated in the “Victory Declared” update to the Rebuild Adult Ed petition, it’s a glass half-full victory, for sure. There are Adult Schools which aren’t re-opening because they closed prior to 2012, and much damage has been done. But that glass is half-full of something and that something’s of great worth: our students, our communities, our work. Adult Education Matters - and so does our voice.
Finally, nothing happens in isolation. Events occur, perceptions are shaped, and decisions are made in a context. Reacting in the moment, without stepping back to look at the larger picture, does not for power make. Understanding what brought something into being, what's at stake, and who might care, reveals the points of leverage that can flip a situation from seemingly hopeless to increasingly possible.
Is anything ever a sure thing? No. That's not what life's about. It's choice after choice after choice. That's what makes it exciting, scary and interesting.
Life is about change and change is about risk. We can't change that. Only how we respond.