Kristen Pursley: “Adult Schools Could Still Wither Away”

From Kristen Pursley’s blog, “Save Your Adult School”

Posted on November 26, 2016 by kpursley
 

Since last year, adult schools  finally have their own dedicated funding through the consortia. Adult schools have stable funding at last, and should be able to get on with the job of providing education for California�s adults. Unfortunately, adult schools are still in jeopardy because their funding is inadequate and the state apparently has no intention of increasing it.

Adult school funding has not so much stabilized as fossilized, and the fossilization took place when adult school funding had been reduced by half during a chaotic period of unrestricted cuts.  In 2008, the Great Recession precipitated a budget crisis in California, and the state legislature, as an emergency measure, removed restrictions on how schools could spend most of their categorical funds, including adult school funds. From 2008 to 2013, adult school funding was in free fall as school districts took their money to save other programs. Some adult schools closed altogether, and the number of adult schools in the state fell 11%.  State spending on adult schools fell from $750 million a year to $350 million, a more than 50% drop.

In 2013, the financial crisis was finally beginning to pass, but the state chose to make the emergency permanent for adult schools.  In that year, the state finally stopped the bleeding for adult schools by instituting a Maintenance of Effort provision for districts that still had adult schools.  Districts had to keep funding their adult schools at the 2012 level, but this was, of course, whatever low level of funding the adult school was receiving after four years of unrestricted cuts. The Maintenance of Effort persisted for two years, after which it was replaced by the consortia in 2015.

Even when the consortia came into being, the state did not raise adult school funding at all.  Only $350 million of consortia funds was dedicated for adult schools, and adult schools were only guaranteed the amount of funding they had under the Maintenance of Effort.  That is how the consortium funds were distributed; according to what schools got the year before. There was no provision for the fact that some adult schools were hit much worse than others.  The fortunate remained fortunate, and the unfortunate (who were often situated in areas of higher need) were left to struggle and scrape by as they had been doing for six years. There was another 1.5 million in consortium funding divided between all the 71 consortia in the state, and this funding could be spent at the discretion of the individual consortia. It could go to adult schools, but there was no requirement that it be spent on them.

Eight years is a very long time to go without any increase in funding at all, especially when an institution is trying to recover from severe cuts and the resulting disastrous losses of instructional time, personnel, and money for resources.  Adult schools are trying to hold the line, but even if they implement the most exacting austerity measures and leverage their resources with every possible lever they can pull, they are eventually going to fall behind. Here�s why:

Adult schools have three basic kinds of staff: teachers, classified staff (clerks, janitors, etc.) and administrators.  Adult school teachers are strictly adult school employees, but classified staff and administrators are district employees.  They can be  transferred or promoted into the adult school from  other positions in K-12, and they may transfer or be promoted out again to other K-12 positions.  Classified union members often  have bumping rights for all positions within the district, including the adult school. Classified  district staff are almost always unionized, and their union contracts are negotiated relative to the school district�s budget, not the adult school�s (much smaller) budget. Yet some of them will be working at the adult school, and the adult school must pay the negotiated wage. That is only fair, but since adult school funding is frozen, the adult school has to cut services in order to pay for every wage increase classified staff win.

School administrators,too, often belong to associations and negotiate their salaries as a group. Again, their salaries are negotiated relative to the budget of the district as a whole, not of the adult school, but some of them will work for the adult school, and, again, every raise or even cost of living increase will impact the adult school�s ability to provide services.

Many adult school teachers belong to unions also, but their wages are not bargained for relative to the budget of the district as a whole; their wages are bargained for relative to the adult school budget.  So their are likely to have to struggle harder for even the smallest raise while their  district argues that the money just isn�t there. Meanwhile, classified staff and administrators at the adult school will see regular raises that have been negotiated relative to the district budget, and their higher salaries will cut into the adult school�s budget and ability to provide services. Indeed, in severe cases, instructional hours may be cut and teachers may lose hours and income to pay for the salary increases of classified staff and administrators.  And, of course, students will lose out too, in the form of less classes, less instructional hours, and less supplies.

When I talk about adult school teachers� wages, by the way, I do mean wages.  Most adult school teachers are part-time, hourly employees.  Most do not receive health care benefits or paid vacations and holidays, while classified staff and administrators who work at the adult school have the full benefits associated with full-time positions.

Of course, school classified staff and administrators need and deserve their raises. The problem is that the state does not take their raises  into account when they steadfastly refuse to provide adult schools with any more funding.  Legislators and policy makers in Sacramento don�t seem to know much detail about  how adult schools work, so their decisions frequently have unintended consequences.   In this case, the unintended consequence may be that adult schools will eventually sink beneath the burden of salaries negotiated with reference to school district budgets.

Add to this the fact that the cost of materials keeps going up, and that even the most carefully maintained old equipment eventually breaks down completely and needs to be replaced, and you can see that disaster is looming for adult schools sooner rather than later.  It is hard to understand why policymakers in Sacramento don�t see this too.  You simply can�t freeze the funding of an institution permanently and expect that it will not fall further and further behind.

Yet this is apparently what the state plans to do.  According to information that is beginning to come out about the 2017-2018 budget, the governor is planning, for the third year in a row, not to give adult schools any more money that he gave them last year and the year before that.

The excuse legislators give for not giving the consortia more money is that they need to see how the consortia work out.  If they see success, then they will consider more money.  But they are extremely fuzzy about how they define success. There are no timelines and no benchmarks, just a vague indication that the consortia haven�t met their expectations yet, whatever they are.  But the state has asked the consortia to effect sweeping changes that will take time to implement and even more time to show results.  If policymakers really intend to freeze consortium funding until that distant day when they see all the results they want, adult schools simply aren�t going to make it to the finish line.
Sacramento is ignoring the fact that success costs money.  The legislation that created the consortia imposed a lot of new costs, some of which must be born by adult schools. There are demands for additional services and data that have to be paid for somehow.  Governor Brown is famous for keeping a stone in his office for his contemplation. Next time he looks at it, he should remember that you can�t get blood out of one.

And Sacramento should remember that failure costs money, too.  Failure can be expensive, but it is a waste of money, not an investment.  If the state fails to fund the consortia adequately, they will be paying for a disappointment year after year until the whole thing finally runs into the ground. The consortia are trying hard to succeed.  If they fail for lack of adequate support from the state, government officials should blame themselves.

Only the citizens of California can turn this around.  The governor is now in the process of constructing the budget for 2017-2018, and he needs to hear from Californians that adult schools must be more adequately funded.  Please write to Governor Brown and ask him to increase consortium funding  to at least  the 2008 level of $750 million.  It won�t be enough, but it will be a start.  Please contact your state legislators too, and let them know this is important to you.  They will need to approve the governor�s budget by June.

The governor�s budget comes out in mid-January.  It will be revised in May, and the legislature has to approve it in June.

My thanks to Ken Ryan, an adult school teacher whose insight was the inspiration for this post.

Here is Governor Brown�s address:

Mailing address:
Governor Jerry Brown
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814

Phone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 558-3160

You can also email him from here:

https://govnews.gov.ca.gov/gov39mail/mail.php

All power to the people!
Governor Brown, please remember that more than any other branch of Public Education,
Adult Education serves those with the least resources and the greatest needs.
Adult Education also serves those at most at risk of danger and disaster from
anti-immigrant and anti-poverty sentiment and policies.
And it is the only branch of Public Education bound by law not to ask about immigrant status.
Adult Education needs adequate and realistic funding! Now!  Not later! 
And especially before changes in federal policies bring further difficulty!  — Cynthia Eagleton

 

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