Details of Governor’s Adult Education Proposal Made Public

Mar 13th, 2015 | By | Category: Advocacy, News
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Jeff Frost

By JEFF FROST

—When the governor’s 2015-2016 state budget was unveiled in mid-January, adult education advocates were encouraged to see that it contained $500 million per year in ongoing funding to develop a stand-alone categorical program to begin the meet the needs of the old adult education program, which was allowed to become flexible in 2007-2008 during the beginning of the economic recession. The concept of creating new programs by region that would meet the specific local workforce and education needs of adults was generally supported in the education community. However, most statewide education organizations wanted to wait until the actual implementing language came out before taking any positions on the governor’s adult education proposal. The details were made public the week of February 16.

The details of the proposal are at once fairly simple but overly complex. The general concept is to allocate $500 million in ongoing funding to regions based on documented regional need. For the past two years, participating school districts and community colleges have been actively planning for adult education’s regional future by analyzing workforce demand and programmatic need. Those needs-based plans have continued to be massaged and analyzed and are to be the foundation of local budgeting and fund-allocation decisions. The budget trailer bill language (the implementing language) outlines that state funding will be apportioned by region based on each district’s overall percentage of need. Should demand exceed the overall funding available, each region’s allocation will be reduced accordingly. Before seeing the trailer bill language, some thought that the governor might give priority to some regions of the state over others, but this does not appear to be the case.

There are four main areas where the implementing language raises concerns from statewide organizations and adult ed advocates in the field. The concerns include:

  1. The proposal seems to be needlessly complicated in terms of how the funds will flow and to whom they will flow. The language sets up regional consortiums as new entities of local government with the ability to hire an executive director and spend up to 5% of the region’s funding administration.
    It seems that there are a number of alternatives to the bureaucratic nature of the regional delivery model set up in this trailer bill language. The model used for Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPAs) could be used, in which one of the school districts serves as the administrator for the region; there would be far less funding spent on overall administration. It is likely that this formal structure will receive a great deal of scrutiny as the proposal moves forward.
  2. There is a significant level of state control over the direction of the new program. The language gives the executive director of the State Board of Education the ability to veto any funding allocations suggested by the two entities given authority to establish the program—the superintendent of public instruction and the community college chancellor.
    This authority is unprecedented. While it has been common in the past to place overall approval authority in the hands of the State Board of Education (all of whose members are approved by the state Senate), there has never been an instance in which this level of authority has been given to an administrator in state government. This authorization is likely to be changed by the time the budget negotiations are concluded.
  3. Funding for each region will be allocated by a seven-member board, on which five of the seven voting members do not represent an entity that receives the Proposition 98 adult ed funding or operates the programs. Each region’s board will have one school district and one community college representative. The other five voting members will include representatives from a local workforce investment board, a local community-based organization or “other adult education entity,” a county social services representative, a county probation office representative, and a public member selected by the region’s members.
    This governance structure raises concerns on two levels. One is that there is only one slot for a “school district” representative in a region that may have a dozen or more districts, and the other is that the non–Prop 98 voting members far outweigh the two that represent districts and community colleges. Additionally, there is no reason why the five non-school district representatives on the regional consortium board cannot provide significant programmatic input without being voting members. Again, each region could use the SELPA model, in which voting members represent the educational entities in the region.
  4. The focus of the new adult education programs is decidedly geared toward workforce needs and training. Concerns have been raised, mainly by the California Teachers Association, that the governor’s proposal is an attempt to take a long-standing program that focuses on the needs of poor and non–English-speaking adults and has transformed it, using Proposition 98 funds, into an accelerated workforce-training program. The implication is that the statutory direction of the new program will make it harder for school districts to offer ESL, adult basic education (ABE), high school diploma (HSD), and citizenship courses.
    This concern is legitimate, but the direction of the new adult ed program is consistent with the long-standing intent of both the governor and the legislature that our adult program does need to be focused on job skills but that core courses such as ESL, ABE, and HSD are gateway skills that are needed to get into or to expand opportunities in any job market.

Significant concerns have been raised about all of these issues. It is clear that there are ways to address each of these concerns without significantly altering the intent of the governor’s proposal. Both houses of the legislature will be addressing this issue in the next weeks. CATESOL’s legislative advocates will keep everyone informed as this issue progresses.

Jeff Frost is CATESOL’s legislative advocate.

 

 

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