Legislative Analyst’s Office Recommends Restructuring of California Adult Education Funding

EdSource published a good story earlier this week about the continuing effort by advocates in California to fix their broken adult education funding system. As I’ve written previously, (here, for example), a budget mechanism implemented in 2009 known as “categorical flexibility,” has allowed California school districts to divert funds from adult education to support its K-12 programs. Altogether, the LAO estimates that over $450 million in state and federal government funds—more than half of the funds that used to be available—have been diverted out of California’s district-run adult schools since the categorical flexibility law was passed.

California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) recently issued a report that recommended a return to a dedicated funding stream for adult education—on other words, remove it from the list of programs that can be poached for other purposes.

Unfortunately, the article makes it clear that there still isn’t a clear legislative path towards implementing that recommendation.

Don’t miss Bob Harper’s comment on the article, which I think makes a good point:

If it’s the intention of the Governor that adult literacy, English language acquisition and immigrant integration, basic skills related to readiness for work or college, are no longer critical services, then that needs to be made plain in policy discussions, and not be the desultory by-product of budgetary reform. In such policy discussions it would be hard to ignore the historic role that adult education has performed for California, and to discuss in what form that needed service continues.

Working Poor Families Project Releases Policy Brief on Upcoming Changes to the GED

A new brief from the Working Poor Families Project provides an overview of the current GED landscape, outlines the changes coming in 2014, and explores some of the alternatives to attaining a high school equivalency diploma offered by many states. If you need a primer on this issue, this document is one of the most useful I’ve seen.

Increasingly, I think what states need to prepare for is not so much the new GED, but a new high school equivalency diploma landscape in which the GED is one of several exams available to states. The report concludes that “at least for most states… the GED test will continue to be an important part of the adult high school equivalency market” which is true, but what this statement implicitly acknowledges is that the GED Testing Service will not be the only player in that market. My understanding is that there will be at least two other major players entering this market.

When that happens, the benefits provided by the GED’s role as a de facto national H.S. equivalency exam will largely go away. For example, right now, because the GED is recognized everywhere, students are able to begin the GED in one state and finish it in another, but once the GED is no longer offered in every state, that benefit goes away.

Grandparents and Adult Education

In many low income communities, grandparents raising children are a critically under appreciated issue. Legislation like this that supports grandparent caregivers makes sense, but as the author points out, it’s just a small piece of the kind of investment needed.

This is another gap issue that those of us involved in adult education policy need to think about as our work becomes increasingly focused on those in the workforce. Some grandparent caregivers in low-income communities have limited literacy skills, and I think it’s safe to assume that a reasonably significant proportion of them are not in the workforce, or going back to it anytime soon, if ever. But wouldn’t parenting classes and mental health programs for this population be more successful if we also increased their literacy skills? Does integrating adult education into parenting classes for those individuals makes sense? If the answer is yes, then what is our strategy for increasing adult education resources for these individuals?

English-Only Laws Are Divisive and Ludicrous

Fredrick Kunkle wrote a story for The Washington Post earlier this week about a proposed English-only ordinance in Carroll County, MD. Kunkle finds it curious that English-only would be much of an issue in a county where only about 2.6% of the resident are Latino. There is no mention in the article of the recently enacted Maryland DREAM Act, and whether the controversy over that measure over the last year or so might have anything to do with the timing of this proposal.

Later in the story we learn that the ordinance wouldn’t actually do anything:

Kim Propeack, political director of CASA of Maryland, said the proposed ordinance’s only significance is its symbolism. Federal and state laws require that services they fund must be accessible in languages besides English. It’s also meaningless in the private sector, where businesses that are eager to win new customers have embraced bilingualism.

“On a policy level, this is just ludicrous,” Propeack said. “You have to wonder what they’re really trying to say.”

Two paragraphs later, we have our answer:

“Send them all back where they came from,” said store owner Shane Fitzgerald, 33.

One other point that can’t be made enough, apparently. If universal, free, English-language instruction were suddenly made available to all, and everyone who wanted to learn English enrolled tomorrow, (and plenty of people would) that would not remove the obligation to provide government services and information in multiple languages, because it actually takes some time to learn a new language. And you’d need to keep those services and information resources accessible to non-English speakers even after all your current residents have learned English, because more non-English speaking people will be coming along right behind them.

That is, unless you take the position that non-English speakers simply don’t have the same rights as those who do.

There just isn’t any remotely legitimate policy interest behind English-only laws. The government has an obligation to treat people equally and fairly, and not every one of us at any given time speaks/read/understands English. It’s pretty simple.

Most non-english speaking people want to learn English. The way to support people to do this is to invest in programs that will help them to learn. I don’t know about Carroll county, but recent reports are that Maryland has an adult education waiting list at any given time of about 1,200-2,700 people. (And a report from a few years earlier had that number at about 5,000, with the vast majority waiting for ESL services.) Waiting list numbers always underestimate the actual demand for services, because many people have given up looking, or can’t find a suitable program in their community to begin with.

h/t @JohnSegota