Monday, March 28, 2016

"Why California's Adult Schools Need More Money" - from Save Your Adult School

With permission from Kristen Pursley:

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.

Hit the link to read more.

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.

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