By Cynthia Eagleton

Ever Since Wall street crashed into Main Street five years ago, adult education has been in a state of change. Until five years ago, adult education in California was stable: Classes were provided primarily through K-12 districts as a protected categorical, and in a few cities, as non-credit offerings at community colleges.

In 2009, faced with financial meltdown, the Legislature pulled adult education out of its protected status, making its funding available to K-12 districts to backfill areas of need. Consequently, more than 70 K-12 adult schools closed. The survivors shrank in size and scope. Jobs were lost, many of them union. 

In December 2012, the Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended better coordination between K-12 and community college delivery systems, funding adult schools as a separate item in K-12 district budgets, and narrowing the traditional wide-ranging mission to only six core academic programs. The LAO report appears to be the blueprint by which the governor and the Legislature are creating new structures.

The governor’s budget proposal in January 2013 suggested housing all adult education in the community colleges. This met resistance from the adult education community, leading the governor, in his May Revision, to propose a new “regional consortia” system patterned on the LAO recommendation and now embodied in two pieces of legislation passed in July.

SB91 provides that if a K-12 district had an adult school in 2012-13, it must keep that school open and funded at the same level through 2015. This was intended to stop the shutdown and shrinkage of surviving adult schools.

AB86 charges the Community College Chancellor’s Office and the California Department of Education with establishing the regional consortia system, which will launch in 2015-16, and provides $25 million for planning. A consortium must include at least one K-12 adult school and one community college. Beyond 2015, K-12 adult schools must be in regional consortia to receive dedicated state funding.

The AB86 Work Group, charged with implementation, recently held four town halls across the state to gather public input (See left) on the consortia system and grant applications. Though non-competitive, the grants create the potential for conflict within consortia and further erosion of service to the community because of the essential inequity between community colleges, which have stable funding, and K-12 adult schools, which do not.

The California Council for Adult Education recently announced that the Department of Finance is now convinced K-12 adult schools need stable funding and will respond to continued pressure from the field. A return to designated funding would change the dynamics within individual consortia, within K-12 districts, and throughout the state by re-emphasizing the value of adult education, particularly in rural areas, which have largely lost adult schools and have remote community colleges.

AB86 also tasks the consortia with providing a six-program “core mission.” If adult schools want to provide popular “outside the core” programs such as Parent Education and Older Adults, they must do so on their own dime, which might depend on community affluence rather than need. 

It took grassroots efforts, often led by CFT members, and powered by adult learners, to stop adult education from being completely decimated. Immigrants, parents, job seekers, seniors, all understand adult education stabilizes lives and communities.

Our involvement matters. We have the right and responsibility to create an adult education system that serves the people of California in a just and effective way. — By Cynthia Eagleton

— Cynthia Eagleton has taught ESL at San Mateo Adult School since 1998 and is a member of the San Mateo Adult School Federation of Teachers, Local 4681. A third-generation union member, she blogs at Adult Education Matters

AB 86 TOWN HALL: Members voice strong opinions

Tom Lawson, teacher at Salinas Adult School and a member of the CFT Adult Education Commission, described challenges facing rural areas and talked about the need for credential reciprocity, sharing of records, and privacy, in particular, for undocumented students. 

Susan Lopez, member of the CFT Adult Education Commission and ESL teacher at City College of San Francisco, said 100,000 people in the city living below the poverty line could benefit from ESL and adult classes.

George Porter, instructor of Older Adults at Berkeley Adult School and member of the Berkeley Commission on Aging, voiced his concern that adult education will provide remedial work for the community colleges and a trade school option for high schools, instead of providing real learning for adults.

Bruce Neuberger, member of the CFT Adult Education Commission and ESL teacher at both San Mateo Adult School and City College of San Francisco, said to win the battle against corporate education reformers, we 
must include students because we need their strength.

Jeri McGovern, coordinator of the Fifty Plus (Older Adults) program at San Mateo Adult School, talked about the necessity to assess existing programs and the need for representation of the programs not included in AB86.

Katie McDonald of the Berkeley Adult School talked about teaching students coping with mental illness, a disability rarely mentioned but increasingly present in our culture. 

Marilyn Noble, a Family Literacy teacher in one of the few remaining Oakland Adult Schools, former member of the CFT Adult Education Commission and experienced advocate for people coping with poverty and oppression, talked about the need to have a means in place for students, especially women, to grow a new vision for themselves.