Excellent Article on History of Adult Education in California—and Why It’s All Falling Apart Now

Over the weekend, the San Diego News-Tribune published an outstanding guest opinion piece by Dom Gagliardi, principal of the Escondido Adult School, and a past president of both the California Council for Adult Education and the National Commission on Adult Basic Education.

Gagliardi’s article is a great primer on the proud, 156-year history of school-based adult education in California—a system of “adult schools” that is all but collapsing in the wake of massive state budget deficits over the last several years—and a law that has encouraged many school districts to cut adult education from their budgets.

Gagliardi notes that at its peak in 2005, nearly 1.4 million Californians were enrolled in adult education, mostly through this system. But since 2010, 32 adult schools have closed temporarily and 44 have had their budgets cut by more than 50%, all because of a budget mechanism implemented in 2009 known as “categorical flexibility,” which allows districts to divert funds from programs like adult education to support its K-12 programs. As Gagliardi writes:

The increasing economic pressure on school districts to balance their budgets has put them in the untenable and unfortunate position of pitting one program against another. When forced to prioritize instructional services for youth or adults, the choice is obvious and painful(my emphasis)

That last point can’t be emphasized enough (see point number one here).

According to Gagliardi, there is at least one school district in California that has remained steadfast in continuing to provide adult education despite these pressures—and not surprisingly, it’s his own. Although the district has cut their budget by about 20%, the Escondido Adult School, which serves approximately 10,000 students per year, has survived, at least in part via increased class fees to offset the decreases in state and local funding.

Gagliardi concludes, “[i]t is increasingly evident that giving local school districts the ability to use funding previously earmarked for adult education to support K-12 programs must end before the entire adult education system is decimated. (my emphasis) Once the infrastructure of the state’s adult education program is gone, it will be difficult if not impossible to resurrect.”

That law is supposed to expire in 2015; it’s encouraging to read a call to end this practice now, before it’s too late.

Be sure to go read the whole article if you are at all interested in what is going on there. Again, it’s a great primer on the history of adult education in the state, a good summary of what is going wrong there now, and a call to act before there is nothing left to save.