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California budget crisis decimating adult education programs

by Adrienne Verrilli, published

To help school districts deal with years of massive spending cuts in education, in 2009, the state legislature temporarily de-regulated $4.5 billion in funds formerly earmarked for 40 programs that school districts had been required to fund, such as adult education, classes for gifted children and training for blue collar fields like carpentry. What two separate studies have found is that schools districts shifted those dollars from adult programs into their general funds and have invested more heavily in K-12 spending.

In February, California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office released a study which found that three out of four school districts reported making cuts to adult education.  Just last week, the RAND Corporation found that, of the ten schools districts the study reviewed, “eight in 10 reduced adult education program, often sharply.”  The RAND report also found that:

     “Spending on core instructional materials, including textbooks, was also reduced in the majority of districts. Special instructional activities for gifted and talented students were pared-back or eliminated in six of 10 school systems.”

While some schools districts have welcomed the new flexibility, many feel that California’s future has been put at great risk. Adult education is seen as a way to provide access to better job opportunities and to help people improve their economic situation. According to Mike Wada, president of the California Council for Adult Education, an organization representing 3000 adult educators in the state:

     “We have a great need in California for adult education. This, in essence, dooms people to a life of poverty because they won’t have things like basic math and English skills.”

On the other hand, Christopher Steinhauer, Superintendent of Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) believes the changes in the rules have had a positive effect and wants even more. LBUSD has been able to make fewer cuts to elementary school music training, libraries, counseling and nurses. The money has also been invested in improving success in algebra and enrollment in Advanced Placement (AP) courses. As quoted in the Los Angeles Times:

     “We love the flexibility. We truly believe it doesn’t go far enough. But it shouldn’t be a trade-off for less money.”  

Yet, because of the shift in priorities, adult school enrollment dropped from more than 14,000 to about 5,000 students.

As the budget crisis continues, schools districts are preparing for the worst, further impacting adult education. The Oakland Unified School District is looking to save $8.8 million next year by laying off 46 adult-education teachers, cutting most vocational programs, as well as citizenship preparation classes and English language courses. In fact, Los Angeles Unified School District’s possible elimination of the nurse-training program has spurred protest. Adult education teacher Matthew Kogan made his case:

     “There are over 400 people on the waiting list and there is 100% job placement. This is a great career path and exactly the kind of thing we should be doing in LA Unified.”

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