New money for adult ed contemplated

New money for adult ed contemplated

(Calif.) A key legislative panel is set this week to review the status of adult education in the state just a year after lawmakers rejected Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to shift administration of the program to community colleges because too many K-12 school districts significantly reduced services during the recession.

The state currently supports more than 400 adult education programs overseen by both community college and K-12 school districts – a division of resources and responsibility that has also long been suspected of diminishing performances.

Under a compromise worked out with the administration last summer, K-12 districts have agreed to maintain services while a two-year, $25 million planning project is underway.

Although lawmakers may not be quite ready to talk about more money to support the program that issue is likely to be the elephant in the room.

“The challenge on the K-12 side is that once maintenance of effort goes away, those investments will too,” explained Dr. Debra Jones, dean of Career Education Practices in the California Community College Chancellor’s Office.

“The $25 million that we have received are planning funds with the promise from the Department of Finance for more money in 2015-16,” she said.

Wednesday’s hearing is before a joint committee of members from both houses that oversees K-12 schools and higher education.

Adult education has a history in California going back more than a century but program administrators and advocates worry that this important “second chance” opportunity for high school dropouts and many others may be in jeopardy.

Because attendance data on adult programs is spotty, it is unclear exactly how many students are being served but supporters have said that since the onset of the recession in 2008, the numbers have fallen dramatically as schools shifted their focus to core services.

A report from the non-partisan Legislative Analyst in 2012 noted that many K-12 districts either dropped or scaled back their adult ed programs following deep budget cuts as well as legislative funding flexibility for local officials in 2009.

To shore up the program, the LAO called for a dedicated stream of funding for adult education and a management environment that would encourage K-12 districts and community colleges to continue to administer programs but focus more on better outcomes.

Instead, Brown proposed last January to transfer responsibility over adult education to the community college system as well as the estimated $300 million per year K-12 districts were spending on them.

But there were vigorous objections to the plan  including from state schools’ chief Tom Torlakson. In something of a compromise, legislative leaders and the governor agreed to provide the Community College Chancellor’s office $25 million for K-12 districts and community colleges to use for the development of new regional plans.

The legislative directions call for grants to be made starting in the 2015-16 fiscal year. The intent is to come up with better ways to serve the adult education needs in a region with emphasis in the following areas:

  • Elementary and secondary basic skills, including classes required for a high school diploma or high school equivalency certificate;
  • Classes and courses for immigrants eligible for education services in citizenship and English as a second language and workforce preparation classes in basic skills;
  • Education programs for adults with disabilities;
  • Short-term career technical education programs with high employment potential; and
  • Programs for apprentices.

The hearing Wednesday will include a long list of educators engaged in adult services from both K-12 districts and community colleges.

Paul Steenhausen, a principal fiscal and policy analyst at the LAO who wrote the 2012 report, is scheduled to appear as is Gordon Jackson, who helps oversee adult education at the California Department of Education, and Jones, from Community College Chancellor’s Office.

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