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.

Is the Potential Elimination of Adult Education in Los Angeles Our Wisconsin Moment?

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Photo of the front page of the March 14th edition of the Los Angeles Times, from the Save Adult Ed! Web site.

About a year ago, Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times described the effort by Governor Walker of Wisconsin to slash the collective bargaining rights of his state’s public employees as a potential “watershed for public-sector unions, perhaps signaling the beginning of a decline in their power — both at the bargaining table and in politics.”

The situation in Wisconsin galvanized the labor movement and resulted in a massive protest that engaged people from around the country. I’ve been thinking about those protests the last couple of months as I’ve been following the school budget situation in Los Angeles, where the school board has decided to completely shut down adult education unless new revenue or teacher pay cuts are accepted. Eliminating adult education in L.A. would cut off adult education services to well over 300,000 people.

There are a lot of differences between the crisis in L.A. what was happening in Wisconsin a year ago in many, many fundamental ways. For one thing, the effort to dismantle public sector unions in Wisconsin was connected to an organized, long-standing national political agenda, and to my knowledge there is no political party with a specific agenda to dismantle adult education. Secondly, adult education ever had the political clout or recognition that organized labor has. But I do think an argument can be made that the attempt to shut down adult education in L.A. is a similar “watershed” moment for the field, both because of the scale of the protests (500 people at the rally yesterday), and, possibly, the ramifications. If adult education services at this scale, and with such visible, active support, can simply be dropped—if the city and the school board, in other words, gets away with doing this—does this send a message to policymakers across the country that they can get away with it too? Granted, adult education has never been in a very secure position in most states; as noted by CLASP, several states have been cutting funding for adult education dramatically the last few years, and Arizona dropped state funding altogether in 2010.

But eliminating a program of this size is, I believe, unprecedented (by comparison, according to CLASP, Arizona’s 2010 cut dropped services for 40,000 people). For this reason, it feels like a dangerous line in the sand that the adult education field should not allow to be crossed, similar to the way in which labor leaders realized that the fight in Wisconsin last year had ramifications that went well beyond Wisconsin state borders.

Here is a video of the guy with the megaphone above. He was living under a bridge before he learned English:

LAUSD Board Approves Budget Proposal They Say Could Allow Adult Education to Continue (Updated)

march-13-rally-saveadulted-lausd-headquarters(UPDATED BELOW)

Last month, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board held off on a proposal to completely eliminate the LAUSD’s adult education program, which would have left over 300,000 adult students without adult education services in Los Angeles.

According the L.A. Weekly, the Board instead asked Superintendent John Deasy and the unions to work together on a plan to balance the budget that would not require eliminating adult education and other programs, like pre-K services, also slated for elimination. According to the Weekly, Deasy started that ball rolling at the meeting by specifically pitching a parcel tax proposal just before the Board voted on the matter—one that “he and Board President Monica Garcia mentioned at every opportunity throughout the meeting.” Moreover, the Superintendent implored those speaking against the program eliminations to support such a tax proposal. (Some suggested at the time that the proposal to zero out adult education might, in fact, have been “orchestrated by district officials to galvanize support” for the tax increase.)

Today, as reported in the Contra Costa Times, the Board met and approved the plan the Superintendent came up with, which not only includes the parcel tax proposal (specifically, putting a $298 parcel tax on the November ballot to raise $255 million a year for the next five years), but also would require request LAUSD labor unions to accept a one-year pay cut across the board (!), which they estimate will save another $220 million. If both of these things are approved, Deasy says LAUSD will be able to continue adult education (although my guess from that language is that this does not necessarily mean that the budget for adult education services might not be reduced) and other services that have been threatened with elimination.

UPDATE, 3/14: A different story appearing in the same paper says that the vote was for “a worst-case budget that would gut popular programs like Adult and Early-Childhood Education for 2012-13, although a recent infusion of state money allowed officials to hold out hope of restoring some programs by fall.” That seems to be consistent with this post, although I still don’t understand what exactly has been cut and when those cuts would go in to effect or potentially be restored. I think the bottom line is that the proposal appears to do something short of eliminating adult education completely while leaving it’s budgetary future more than a little murky.

UPDATE 2, 3/14: More stories out today that clarify this a bit better. Basically, I’ve got this right, but the way I characterized it originally is a bit more hopeful-sounding than it should have been.

According to  in The Huffington Post, (citing the  Daily News) Deasy’s plan is a worst-case scenario plan that does in fact eliminate adult education and other programs—which is more or less just like the old plan, but with two differences:

1. Deasy was able to make a $180-million readjustment to the deficit projection as a result of, according to the Los Angeles Times, “a variety of unexpected good news, including the restoration of projected cuts to transportation, higher-than-expected state lottery revenue and a decrease in projected benefits expenditures.” As a result, the district was able to maintain some programs in the plan as it now stands, such as career and technical training for high school students.

2. Adult Education and several other programs, on the other hand, are still eliminated in this plan. The difference is that they could still be restored if the parcel tax increase is approved by the voters and/or the unions accept the across-the-board pay cut he has proposed.

In other words, the plan doesn’t assume that the revenue/savings ideas will go forward. It’s a worst-case plan that leaves some hope for adult education restoration, but no promises.

In order to pass, parcel taxes need the approval of two-thirds of voters. LAUSD’s last parcel tax measure in 2010 was defeated with 52 percent of the vote. I have no idea how likely it is that the unions will accept the pay cut proposal and too tired to find out. But I can guess it will not be (has not been?) warmly received.

Some adult education advocates in Los Angeles have strong opinions about the financial mess that LAUSD and how to resolve them that go to more fundamental issues of fairness and economic justice. In fact, for those interested, there is a lot more to read about the situation in L.A. here and here. (The second link is to a Web site set up by L.A. adult education advocates.)

(In addition to the updates above, the headline has been re-written to better reflect the tenuous nature of the possibility that adult education will be restored.)

Clark County Nevada Correctional Education Improves Economy and Public Safety, Budget Is Cut Anyway

Excellent article by Paul Takahashi in the Las Vegas Sun over the weekend about an adult education and vocational training program based at the High Desert State Prison in Nevada, about 40 miles northwest of Las Vegas. According to the Sun, more than 300 inmates are served through this program, operated by the Clark County School District through a partnership with the Nevada Department of Corrections.

About 75% of inmates who receive their GED, high school diploma or a vocational certificate through this program never return to prison. By contrast, the overall recidivism rate for inmates 18 to 20 years old is about 50%.

Unfortunately, funding for adult education and vocational programs at prisons across the state has been dramatically reduced in recent years. Clark County has cut the budget for this program by 28%.

(Corrected on 3/14: forgot to add a link to the original story!)