Guest Post: The Los Angeles Unified School District Budget Crisis and Adult Education

Today I am pleased to be publishing the first guest post on this site, written by Carol Valentine, an Adult Educator at Venice-Emerson Community Adult School, part of Los Angeles Unified School District’s Division of Adult and Career Education (DACE). Carol and I have been corresponding the last week or two regarding the LAUSD funding crisis and the potentially devastating impact this crisis may have on adult education in the district. I really appreciate the opportunity to share her first-hand knowledge of the situation there. — Jeff

My name is Carol Valentine. I am an Adult Educator at Venice-Emerson Community Adult School, part of Los Angeles Unified School District’s Division of Adult and Career Education (DACE). I have worked for DACE for over 20 years as a teacher, program director, and administrator. DACE is one of the oldest and largest Adult Education programs in the United States, serving 350,000 students in Los Angeles annually. DACE serves more adult students than all of the local community colleges combined. DACE programs are available in every neighborhood in Los Angeles. The programs are free or low cost, have open, on-going enrollment, and available to everyone. DACE is the primary provider of programs for English as a Second Language and Citizenship, Parent Education, Early Childhood Education and School Readiness, Basic Literacy Skills, High School Diploma and GED preparation, and Career and Technical Education (CTE). Last year, in the area of job preparation and training alone, DACE students earned over 65,000 CTE certificates in high demand jobs.

This is a very impressive performance record, but, unfortunately, as of June 30th, 2012, the Division of Adult and Career Education will cease to exist. I would like to share with you some important information regarding the current budget crisis in adult education, and how it will affect the people of Los Angeles. This is my own personal perspective regarding the current crisis in Adult Education funding in Los Angeles, and does not represent the views of any organization.

It is well known that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has had major budget deficits for the past several years, with cuts to the general program already exceeding $2 billion. The budget for LAUSD school year 2012-2013 is close to $7 billion, and this budget will serve approximately 600,000 K-12 students. LAUSD has a projected budget deficit of $390 million for school year 2012-2013. In order to reduce the $390 million deficit, the Los Angeles Unified School District School Board voted in March to completely eliminate the 100 year-old Division of Adult and Career Education (DACE), with the goal of saving $170 million. The DACE budget of $170 million serves 350,000 students, and the DACE budget is less than 2% of the total $7 billion LAUSD budget.

The reason that the school board is able to appropriate Adult Education funds is because the California budget crisis has put Adult Education funds into the Tier III funding category. In normal budget years, Adult Education monies are kept separate from K-12 funds, and are used exclusively for the Academic and Career Preparation of adults. This is not a normal budget year. This funding flexibility allows, in times of budget shortfalls, for some local discretion with regard to the administration and funding of Adult Education by the local county board of education and the local school district. These state dollars are earmarked exclusively for the education of adults, and while there may be some local discretion for how funds are to be spent, spending cuts should never result in the complete elimination of all educational services for adults. If there have to be cuts, then these cuts should be shared proportionally across the board, and not at the expense of the largest Adult Education program in the United States.

This is now a social justice crisis of epic proportions, and it requires immediate solutions. 350,000 people will be left without any access to affordable academic education and job training. In many areas of Los Angeles, the unofficial unemployment rate is close to 40%, and the poverty index is higher than it has ever been. For this population, DACE is the only option for educational services. For a great many needy people in Los Angeles, DACE is the only local, affordable access to education. If solutions to the Adult Education funding problem are not found immediately, after June 30th, 2012, there will be massive negative repercussions throughout Los Angeles County, impacting every area of social health, education and welfare. I fear too few state-level politicians fully understand the social ecosystem in Los Angeles, or the severe repercussions that will result from the loss of this critical educational program.

One of the reasons most people cannot comprehend the scope of this particular educational crisis is precisely because the Division of Adult and Career Education is such an anomaly; there isn’t a similar program anywhere in the United States. Where else will you find an organization that provides comprehensive educational services for 350,000 students for $170 million? The DACE student population is greater than all the Los Angeles Community College populations combined. The Dace student population is greater than many cities. DACE is a unique educational model, and if these budget cuts are allowed to go through, 350,000 students will be left without educational options. Promises to restore funding in better economic times are useless. It will not be possible to rebuild the infrastructure of this educational system once it has been dismantled. The value and impact of the DACE programs are tremendous. It is essential for decision makers to take more time to become knowledgeable about the nature and scope of the programs that will be lost, and the impact that eliminating them will have on well being of the people of Los Angeles.

We are now marking the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles city civil unrest. Civil unrest occurs when people believe that they are not able to effect change in their lives, and when they feel that they have been treated unjustly by society, or left out of social structures. Adult Education is important to the local, state and federal economy, and in order to stimulate the economy, we need a better-trained, educated workforce that will be able to make purchases, pay taxes and fully participate in civic society. The small amount invested now in proactive, preventative education programs will save billions in reactive, crisis services and programs later on. We cannot afford to further marginalize the residents of Los Angeles who depend on the safety net of adult and career education for low-cost, high-quality, secondary education and career training.

Value and Impact of DACE programs

The English as a Second Language and Citizenship Program: In 2009-2010, over 63,000 students completed English as a Second Language classes. Many of these classes were conducted on Elementary School sites with support from the Community-Based Education and Tutoring program (CBET). CBET not only provides parents with the English Skills necessary to support their children’s education, but it also provides parents training in tutoring, and school involvement, and how to use technology as an educational support. The CBET program provides free, on-site childcare, which enables parents with younger children to attend the ESL classes. These parents will be more prepared to support at home when their next child enters kindergarten. Many of these parents become comfortable with the school environment, and then go on to volunteer in the school. It is evident how the loss of this program will impact families in schools, but this also affects the ability of families to gain capacity for higher paying employment and greater stability. There is one other critical public policy point that should be kept in mind with regard to the ESL program, and that is that someday soon, there will be federal legislation passed to address the immigration and citizenship issue. Who will provide the English and Citizenship classes to the hundreds of thousands of people in Los Angeles who will need them? This infrastructure will no longer exist after June 30th, 2012.

The Adult Basic Education (ABE) Program: Low literacy is THE common denominator in our current educational crisis. Adult Basic Education classes improve Math and Reading skills up to an 9th grade level. ABE classes are remedial classes for low-literacy Adults or Concurrent High School students. Students finish the ABE program at grade equivalent (GE) level 9.0, which is the level when a student becomes capable of passing high school classes and/or earning a GED. UCLA studied a cohort of 50,000 LAUSD 9th grade students over a 4-year period, and found that 70% of these students were arriving at 9th grade with far below basic reading levels. This means that the majority of LAUSD 9th grade students are reading below a 4th grade level (GE 4.0). Not surprisingly, almost 60% do not finish high school. Most of these students will drop out between their 9th and 10th grade year, because the 5-year grade level gap in skills (4.0 through 9.0) has finally caught up with them. There is no more social promotion, and the students cannot access the GE 9.0 curriculum. The typical 9th grade dropout will have taken the same English 9A and Algebra 1A classes repeatedly before leaving school by 10th grade.

As an example of how DACE can help and support outcomes for K-12, I will mention a program at one large Los Angeles High School, which had approximately 1800 9th grade students. Of these 1800 students, only 28% matriculated to 10th grade. A DACE coordinator, working with high school counselors, identified 9th grade students with far–below basic reading scores (-4.0), and then asked the parents if they would agree to sign up their children for Adult Basic Reading and Math courses, both after school, on weekends, and in the summer, in order to earn extra credits and to close their skills gap. DACE also provided “Helping Your Child Succeed in High School” Parent Education classes on Saturdays so that parents could attend with their child. Over 700 students and parents participated in the classes in program year 2007-2008. That year, the matriculation rate for the 9th grade students rose from 28% to 58%. The students who took the ABE classes had come up to grade level in time to be able meet the demands of the curriculum, and parents knew how to monitor and support their student. This is a model that could easily be replicated at every high school. It cost the high school nothing, but it had a huge impact on both the rate of student retention and parent involvement. The potential for these types of family literacy—like collaborations between DACE and K-12 will soon disappear. This program was cut in 2008-2009 when DACE received a 20% budget cut.

Impact of Low Literacy on Higher Education: 70% of first year community college students drop out because they have enrolled with lower than middle school reading levels (these are the same students who did not complete high school). The community colleges can only remediate down to an 11th grade level, so the students struggle for one year in remedial classes which are, just like their prior high school experience, 5 standard grade levels above their competency levels. So, once again, and for the same reason as in 9th grade, the students drop out. Because of the 70% dropout rate among first-year community college students, the community colleges are now moving to prohibit students from enrolling unless they have earned a high school diploma or a GED, or can demonstrate 12th grade English and Math competencies. With the elimination of the Adult Basic Education program, this will present an interesting Catch-22 dilemma for the tens of thousands of students who need to remediate their skills in order to be admitted to the community colleges. Where will the students go now to improve their reading levels, or to obtain a high school diploma or GED? They will have no options. Furthermore, if there were greater articulation between Adult Education programs and Community Colleges, students who scored low on college entrance placement exams could be sent to the adults schools for free college/career planning classes and academic remediation, while they waited for the next semester opening at the community college. This would greatly improve the outcomes of student retention and matriculation at the community college level.

The High School Diploma/GED and Credit Recovery Program: Every year, over 90,000 Los Angeles high school students take free credit recovery courses with the Adult Division after school, on weekends, or in the summer to make up failed classes, and to improve basic skills in order to pass the California High School Exit Exam. The current high school graduation rate is heavily dependent on this support. On almost every high school campus, DACE offers key strategic supports such as Credit Recovery classes after school so that students can graduate on time, and/or raise a low grade, and thereby improve GPA in order to qualify for a 4-year college. Community Colleges do not allow concurrent high school students to take remedial classes, so Community Colleges are not an option for credit recovery. Without DACE support, next year far fewer students will graduate from high school on time, or qualify for 4-year universities. DACE also offers the Alternative Education Work Centers (AEWC), which are small continuation schools for students age 16 or over who are in danger of dropping out of high school. Without these key supports, the Los Angeles Unified School District High School dropout rate will raise dramatically, thereby reducing performance outcomes for high schools, which will in turn affect the level of funding that the schools receive. Also, any adult student that needs to earn a high school diploma or a GED will find that he/she has very limited options.

Career Technical Education (CTE)/Regional Occupational Programs (ROP): Throughout Los Angeles, DACE provides high quality, low-cost Career Technical Education on high school campuses via the ROP program, as well as at specialized Skills Centers and Occupational Centers. These programs offer students both high school diploma/GED classes, as well as training in high-demand jobs with good earning potential. Many of the Career Training programs are conducted in collaboration with skilled trade unions. To give a local example, Venice-Emerson Community Adult School offers low-cost Career Technical Education training for Pharmacy Technician; Dental Assisting; Medical Technology; Hospitality and Tourism; Electronic Technician Computer Repair and A+ Certification, and a variety of other programs. All of our programs target growth areas of employment. Our Pharmacy Technician program is one of the most highly regarded in the city. We have an almost 99% completion rate, as well as a similar pass rate on the state examinations.

Many large pharmacies will only accept interns from our program because of the depth of the preparation and supervision that is provided to our students. A major Pharmacy has just informed us that they will need to fill 100 positions in the near future, but because of the School Board’s vote, we have had to suspend the next Pharmacy Technician program’s cohort that was to have begun on April 9th. Many of our applicants are on unemployment, and are sent from the Work Source centers or from the Gain program for retraining. They are in desperate need of affordable short-term career training that they can begin immediately. We also serve returning Veterans who are looking for new career pathways. How is it possible that in the midst of a deep recession we are closing successful, affordable job preparation programs? The DACE Licensed Vocational Nursing (LVN) Program is another recent victim of the budget cuts.

I recently went on the California Dept. of Education website to search for other schools that provide Pharmacy Technician training programs in our area, and many schools came up in addition to VECAS. Unfortunately, all of the other schools were the for-profit model schools that are heavily marketed on TV, and which are currently under investigation by the federal government for their massive number of defaults on state and federal student loans. These school charge up to $30,000 dollars for the same program that costs $700 in books and materials fees at VECAS. Community Colleges have Career Technical Certificate programs, but they are more costly, and also have long waiting lists. Last year, DACE students completed over 65,000 CTE training program certificates. This single budget decision will take away job training for tens of thousands of students. The long-term fiscal impact on Los Angeles will be profound.

School Readiness, Family Literacy, Early Childhood Education, and Parent Education: DACE provides critical school readiness programs and parent education programs for children 0-5. DACE Family Literacy programs have won national acclaim, and these programs, as well as the School Readiness Language Program, are in elementary schools throughout LAUSD. The DACE Parent Education program is one of the oldest in the US, and offers dozens of classes at K-12 sites that help the schools fulfill their school site plans for parent involvement. DACE provides Parent Volunteer training classes, as well as “Helping Your Child Succeed in Elementary/Middle/High School”, which are offered free of charge. DACE is also a critical partner with the local First5/Prop.10 initiatives that support a variety of Early Childhood programs, including Universal Pre-School. DACE also offers Community-Based Education (CBET) classes on Elementary school campuses, so that parents can learn English as a Second language and acquire the skills to assist and support their children in school. Here at Venice-Emerson CAS, over 250 parents attend “Mommy &Me” classes, such as Parenting the Infant, Parenting the Toddler, Transition to Pre-School, etc. It is widely documented that school readiness programs affect later school performance and parent involvement.

In Summary: The vast majority of DACE classes are free or low-cost. DACE instructors are highly qualified, and produce outstanding results. The Los Angeles community will suffer greatly when 350,000 students lose critical services. The city of Los Angeles will become a place where it is no longer possible for people to count on having the educational programs they need to achieve the American dream of upward mobility through education. Too few people understand the critical role that DACE plays in the city of Los Angeles. DACE is a silent, invisible partner that quietly and efficiently meets the needs of 350,000 students every year, and does so on a bare-bones budget, with no political support. The community may not notice DACE now, but they will notice DACE when it is gone. And so will the people who are least able to advocate for themselves—the DACE students.

Once the infrastructure is destroyed, it cannot be reconstructed. One hundred years’ of work will be gone, and this will become one of the country’s worst human services debacles on record. I don’t believe the social fabric in Los Angeles can survive such a blow. We need champions for Adult Education in Los Angeles, who understand that adult education if fundamental to having democratic society. Perhaps you can help affect the situation directly, or perhaps you can bring the issue to the attention of others that can. This is a local problem, and therefore it is very difficult to find solutions at the state or federal level. Who will bail out Los Angeles? Every measure that has been proposed to date (the Governor’s tax initiative and the Los Angeles property tax initiative) is unlikely to win voters’ approval in this current economic and political climate. Even in the event that these measures were to be approved, they would take effect so far into 2013 that they wouldn’t be able to stop the destruction of the Division of Adult and Career Education.

We desperately need immediate solutions, and for people to recognize a major crisis in the making. What are the solutions? Immediate federal relief to protect jobs and job training programs? An immediate, emergency sales tax? An immediate enactment to remove Adult Ed funding from Tier III flexibility? A massive philanthropic donation? I do not have the answers. I am a teacher. I teach students to read, and they, in turn, teach me to read the writing on the wall. And what I am reading is that people in Los Angeles are desperate. The loss of this vast, affordable, successful, educational program, compounded with other daunting cuts to the few remaining health and human services programs in Los Angeles has created the potential for the social fabric of Los Angeles to rip wide-open once again. Someone else needs to stop for a minute, read the writing on the wall, and take notice that Los Angeles is already at a tipping point, just as it was in April, 1992.

(You can also download a copy of this paper as a PDF.)