California’s Adult Ed Programs Collapse in Financial Crisis

Adult education throughout the state feels the burns of harsh budget cuts.
by | March 8, 2011

Three years ago, superintendents throughout California had tough decisions to make. As a result of the state’s financial crisis, school districts had the chance to redirect funds from various programs to plug holes in K-12 programs. In 2009, that’s what happened.

But in the aftermath, those programs have suffered from missing funds, especially adult education. In the first year when districts were allowed to exercise flexibility with the funding, adult ed programs had to relinquish 40 percent of the state allocation to K-12 programs and enrollment dropped 36 percent, according to Debra Jones, adult education administrator with the California Department of Education. State officials cut average daily attendance funding and adult schools started charging registration fees to try and survive.

And it’s about to get worse. The funding flexibility was slated to end in 2012-13, but Gov. Jerry Brown’s new budget proposal pushes the deadline to 2014-15. As more and more adults want to learn new skills, reinvent themselves and jump back into the workforce, the devastating cuts to adult ed are forcing programs to shut down.

“Adult education programs are being dismantled up and down the state,” Jones said. “It's really pushed our local programs into a crisis. At a time when people need jobs and retraining, we don't have the funding to do that.”

In Sacramento, "$7.4 million in adult ed funds will go into the district's general fund, which could have a $22.3 million deficit for 2011-2012 if a statewide tax extension isn’t placed on a June ballot and passed by voters," reports the Sacramento Bee.

In San Jose, the district is moving $3.5 million from the adult education program to help fill gaps in the K-12 system, which will abolish all programs for those 50 and older. Mary Lou Lyon, who teaches a program for adults over 50, recently wrote an opinion piece for the San Jose Mercury News, sharing her pains of the loss. She has been teaching Santa Clara County History and California History for Metro Ed for 25 years. The classes, she wrote, provide a community of learning and sharing that keeps minds active, and helps stave off Alzheimer’s and depression. They’ve learned about women’s push for equal rights, various settlements, the gold rush and other slices of history.

“Surely there is still a place for seniors to learn and participate,” she wrote. “Don't relegate us to the dust bin.”

These effects are being felt all across the state. But, for program officials, this news doesn’t mark the end of adult ed in California forever. For the past two years, Jones said, they’ve been exploring new approaches to the awkward funding model, including partnerships with community colleges and the workforce at large. In the long-term, the goal is to get all adult ed programs up and running again with integrated instruction for adults that leads directly to jobs.

“It's a system that's needed change in its funding formula,” Jones said. “Even in the worst of times, we’re using this crisis as an opportunity to look at how we do work most effectively.”