Scrambling for Dollars

Somewhat unusual state funding scheme, I think, for adult literacy in New Mexico, assuming this story was reported accurately. I think what is going on here is that the state has decided it wants state adult literacy funds that are not part of their 25%  match under Title II of WIA to be reserved for programs not receiving Title II funding.

It’s very challenging, I think, for coalitions to serve as conduits for state funding and still serve as a broad-based coalition for the field. Even when it works well, the dynamic between coalition members and the leaders of the coalition is different when coalition members rely on the coalition for funding. And of course, program directors that don’t get your funding won’t be happy, and when funding gets tight, disputes like this seem sort of inevitable.

I’m be interested in hearing about other coalition organizations that serve as state funding intermediaries.

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.

GED President Presses New York to Pass the Cost Increase of the New GED Onto the Test Takers

There’s a good article in a recent edition of Crain’s New York Business for those interested in the changes coming in 2014 to the General Education Development test (more widely known as the GED), which I’ve previously written about here, and here. Not a lot of new information—but some interesting perspective from state officials in New York, and some interesting quotes from officials at the GED Testing Service, now a for-profit venture headed up by the British media company Pearson. A lot of the concern over the increased cost of the revamped test is coming out of New York because it is one of the only states in the country that prohibits charging fees to people who take the test—many states subsidize the costs to some degree, but in New York, the state picks up the full cost. According to the article, this will require New York taxpayers to pony up an additional $3 million annually to cover the anticipated increase in the cost of the assessment.

Interestingly, the President of the GE Testing Service, Randall Trask, told Crain’s that not only should New York change the law that prohibits test-takers from paying a fee—in other words, that they should pass the cost increase onto the test-takers, not the taxpayers—but that doing so will “make the test more widely available.” New York officials think the price hike will make the exam less accessible. They have tried to convince the GED Testing Service to rethink the fee increase and delay the release of the new exam, but told Crain’s they haven’t been able to get them to budge.

Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, which partners with Pearson on the for-profit venture, was really pushing the idea that the current test is out of date—so woefully out of date, in fact, that she comes close to suggesting that denying people access to the new assessment one second longer than necessary is going to leave them destitute:

“The existing test is so out of date that we need to make available at the earliest possible time the kind of examination that will prepare folks for work and college,” she said. “Putting it off only results in another generation of individuals denied the opportunity to prepare for jobs that will allow them to support their families. This is an issue of crisis for our country, so we wanted to move as quickly as we possibly could.”

But later in the article, Kevin Smith, the New York Deputy Commissioner for Adult Career and Continuing Education Services, calls the January 2014 deadline “arbitrary.”

The article claims that as many as 25 state are looking into the possibility of dropping the GED altogether, including possibly California, which is “weighing its options.” If Pearson loses the New York and California market, would the GED still be viable as a  for-profit venture?

On the other hand, switching over to a different assessment may prove just as difficult. While I know at least one state director of adult education who is confident that a new assessment could be ready to go as an option to the GED by January of 2014, I also know that sometimes state directors underestimate the amount of work required at the program level to implement major systematic changes, including the professional development that could be needed to re-train teachers on how to help prepare people for a new test:

“Pursuing alternative pathways is important, but we are racing the clock,” said Sierra Stoneman-Bell, co-director of the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition. “With only 16 months to go, there is no clear plan for New York to transition to the new GED test or alternative assessments.”

Kevin Smith told Crain’s that “[w]e do have some viable alternatives, but our concern is whether those alternatives can get up and running because of the arbitrary time frame created by GED Testing Service,” and warns that if January 2014 rolls around and there are no viable options, including the GED, “there will be a political and public relations maelstrom that will not be pretty.”

Just like the “fiscal cliff” that is looming in January of 2103 for the federal budget due to sequestration, the U.S. adult education system seems to be headed for a credential cliff* in January of 2014. Kevin is right: like sequestration, the GED deadline is clearly arbitrary—and avoidable. I can’t find a source anywhere that makes the case that hitting the pause button on this thing is going to hurt anyone (although I recognize it will probably cost Pierson a lot of money), but it appears that in some parts of the country, at least, that there is a growing risk that the switch may make it more difficult for some adults to access high-school equivalent credentials, if only because states aren’t ready for it. This isn’t a question of whether the new assessment is an improvement, or is necessary—it’s a question of how you introduce a dramatic change in a marketplace that is not equipped to adapt quickly. The GED Testing Service seems to be putting a lot of effort into winning the PR war (and also, to be fair, putting a lot of effort in assisting states to make the transition); hopefully, behind the scenes, they are working even harder to negotiate some kind of compromise with the states that will make this feel more like a leap forward than a drop off a cliff.

(h/t David Rosen)