The reaction to Los Angeles Unified’s decision to cut the budget for adult school in half for the 2012–13 school year underscores the tenuous existence of adult education programs in California.
“I’m very, very happy,” said Michael Romero, executive director of Adult and Career Education for LAUSD.
That’s because earlier this year, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy had proposed eliminating the $210 million program, the state’s largest adult education program, in an effort to close a massive budget shortfall. The school board, in turn, kept $33 million in its budget for the 2012–13 school year.
But after the district and teachers union agreed to shorten the school year and give teachers 10 unpaid furlough days, thereby freeing up money for other purposes, the board transferred another $45 million to adult education. Another $27 million will come from the federal government, primarily through Title II of the Workforce Investment Act, which is more generally referred to as the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act. The act funds English as a Second Language classes, basic reading and math courses, and parenting and citizenship classes. LAUSD also receives federal funds through the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act for career-technical training.
“We’re not satisfied with the 50 percent cut, but we’re feeling much better about the restoration of funds,” Romero said.
Considering what has happened to many adult education programs, Romero has reason to be
grateful. Funding for Oakland Unified’s adult school program has been slashed from $11.4 million to $1 million. An EdSource survey in October-November 2011 found that 22 of the state’s 30 largest districts had substantially cut their adult education programs, and that Anaheim Union had eliminated its adult school entirely. Only one of the 30 districts – Montebello Unified – had made no cuts.
School districts began shifting adult school funds to support K–12 programs after the Legislature in 2009 allowed state funding earmarked for adult education to be used for any educational purpose, as part of a larger shift to eliminate many so-called “categorical programs.”
When Deasy threatened to end adult education, former adult school students, teachers, and others in the community started a petition drive to save the program, and created a website called “Save Adult Ed!” After the board decision to restore another $45 million in funding, the website proclaimed: “Adult Education in LAUSD Survives! We have reached the tipping point, but still have many battles ahead.”
Funding for the program is far from secure. The district’s overall budget relies on passage of Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative, Romero said, one of two initiatives on the November ballot that would raise substantial funds for schools.
“This funding gets us through November,” Romero said. “Voters will determine where we go from there.”
LAUSD currently has 1,780 adult education staff members, compared with 3,617 before the budget cut, according to district spokesman Thomas Waldman. With roughly half the staff remaining, LAUSD’s adult school will offer half as many classes in 2012–13 as it did this year, Romero said. He expects the program will serve about 105,000 students, down from 247,000 in 2011–12. (The budget amounts and student numbers do not include about 50,000 Regional Occupational Center high school and adult students. Starting in 2012–13, that program will be part of Secondary Instruction in the district.)
Although no programs will be eliminated, priority will be given to helping high school students who are behind on credits to graduate, Romero said. Parents of LAUSD students who need to learn English will also be first in line for English as a Second Language (ESL) courses, ahead of other adults. In the past, he said, there were enough classes for everyone.
Students may also have to pay a small, “manageable” fee for ESL classes, basic reading and writing courses, and classes for older adults, Romero said. In addition, he plans to raise fees by more than 20 percent for career-technical courses.
It is too soon to know what will happen to adult school programs in other districts that still support them. Adult schools have traditionally served some of the most marginalized of California’s adult population – including recent immigrants with poor English skills, high school dropouts who need basic academic instruction, the unemployed, and former prisoners reentering society. But because they are not part of the core K–12 population school districts are mandated to serve, these programs remain at greatest risk. A Legislative Analyst’s Office survey this spring showed that nearly one-third (28 percent) of districts shifted all their funding from adult schools to other purposes, while a similar number transferred a substantial portion of their funding.