February 1, 2013
Senator Mark Leno
Chair, Senate Budget and Financial Review Committee
State Capitol, Room 5100
Sacramento, CA 95814
Assembly Member Bob Blumenfield
Chair, Assembly Committee on Budget
P.O. Box 942849
Sacramento, CA 94249-0045
Re: Improving California’s Adult Education System
Dear Senator Leno and Assembly Member Blumenfield:
On behalf of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC), an organization dedicated to promoting job growth, economic expansion, and preserving the overall global competitiveness of California and Los Angeles County, I’m writing to respectfully urge you, as you review and consider the Governor’s Adult Education Realignment plan in his proposed 2013-2014 Budget, to embrace the following recommendations:
- First, adopt proposals to create a more accountable, centralized and rationally-targeted adult education learning structure, which includes more clearly defining and delineating the focus of adult schools towards basic skills (such as civic-focused preparation) and community colleges towards technical/job training as well as other work readiness skills; and
- Second, make and implement other commonsense structural reforms to California’s Adult Education System, which has been decimated by a lethal combination of drastic budgetary cuts, flawed public policy, insufficient clarity, poor coordination, meaningless duplication and a lack of performance accountability. Such reforms include: improving alignment and resolving the inconsistencies between the adult school and community college adult education programs; braiding resources among all the adult education system providers; and better coordinating and standardizing the program’s incongruent data systems to better track enrollment and learning success and performance.
As you know, the central purpose of California’s Adult Education System is to provide, through more than 400 state-funded (adult school and community college) entities, our state’s adult-residents with a basic education and the fundamental skills needed to participate civically and work productively. Yet, despite this critically important mission, our state’s 150-year-old Adult Education System finds itself at a decisive – and some would say: “existential” – crossroads in terms of its viability and effectiveness. We have a sizable state population that desperately depends on its services to find high-value and productive work. We have an increasingly technical and highly-innovative 21st Century economy with fast growing industry clusters (e.g., advanced manufacturing, digital media, information and medical technology) that depend on skilled, trained and educated workers. And we have some very real and serious structural impediments that frustrate and inhibit us from meeting these dual needs long-term.
A number of the major structural challenges faced by our adult education system stem from the legal split of school districts and community colleges into separate adult education provider segments more than 40 years ago and the ill-advised decision in 2009 to shift control of adult education funds for school districts (though not for community colleges) to school district superintendents as a way to address budget shortfalls—providing them with the “flexibility” to use adult education funding for “any educational purpose,” thereby eliminating mandatory dedicated funding for the program. This latter development has led to waiting lists for programs, teacher terminations, and discontinued courses that may be essential to the fundamental basic education needs of millions of under-skilled (and underserved) adults. Both have engendered a series of derivative, but also compounding, structural challenges (including incompatible and uncoordinated data and accountability systems between the two primary data collection and maintenance organizations[*]) described in a recent Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) report, dated: December 2012 (attached herein), which noted that California’s Adult Education System suffers from a “widespread lack of coordination among providers” as well as “limited student data, which impairs the public’s ability to hold the system accountable for performance.”
These structural problems, coupled with an unreliable and dwindling revenue stream, require urgent action to reform the program in a way that allows for the state’s growing adult education population to be served more effectively and efficiently for the betterment of all of California’s residents and communities. Specifically, we recommend and respectfully urge your consideration of and action on the following five (5) very sensible and relatively inexpensive adult education reform proposals, which we believe address some of the aforementioned structural shortcomings in the adult education system, in addition to helping achieve the Governor’s adult education goals to address the current bifurcated system and to place community colleges in a position to direct and improve coordination at the regional and statewide levels:
1) Institute and integrate a coordinated data system for an adult education participant inventory (which would be used by the adult schools, workforce development system and community college system);
2) Standardize reporting across affected agencies to ensure there is an “apples-to-apples” comparison of complete enrollment and participant information as well as student performance and learning gains;
3) Leverage technology in the provision of college-level services including the development of learning platforms that build upon the college system’s statewide network and connection to business and industry;
4) Make adult education a priority by maximizing the infrastructure of existing community colleges – including the development of strategies that can further expand their educational services, especially for technical and/or vocational training in the state’s growing industry clusters, as well by reconsidering the 2009 decision to remove the categorical requirements requiring school districts to use earmarked adult education monies for adult education basic skills training only (as opposed to “any educational purpose”); and
5) Pave the way for future braiding of resources among the adult schools, the workforce development system and the community college system to enable California to more effectively leverage, prioritize, coordinate and direct state and federal dollars for these programs.
It is axiomatic to say that California cannot grow economically without investing in education and human capital. Similarly, it goes without saying that education impacts the health, overall wellbeing and stability of California’s people, families and communities. Yet, even as we acknowledge and accept these facts, we find ourselves in this untenable and paradoxical dystopia of having to cut funding at all levels of education, leaving us with less skilled workers, which serves as a major drag on our state’s economic, income and tax revenue growth, while at the same time having to expend more general funds to combat the increased levels of physical and psychological health problems, drug and alcohol abuse, crime and other societal pathologies that arise from structural unemployment and increased joblessness. The net result of this drag on revenues and ballooning of expenditures: one-in-five Californians without a high school diploma; 10 percent unemployment; about two million Californians out of work; and until recently, colossal fiscal deficits as far as the eye can see.
However, it doesn’t have to be like this. Meaning, we don’t have to make a “Hobson’s choice” between funding and doing nothing. While the state slowly recovers economically and returns to fiscal solvency, there are a number ways to improve our state’s educational program offerings and outcomes without having to appropriate large amounts of funds. So, as you pursue budget deliberations in the coming months, we urge your consideration of the above reforms to the Adult Education System in California. By restructuring the system in a way that would allow for a better allocation and coordination of existing system resources and by further redirecting funds and better targeting services to match California’s growth industries and serve certain high-need, at-risk adult education, we can meet the needs of current and future workers—bridging the growing skills gap, lifting entire communities and increasing California’s overall economic competitiveness.
President & CEO
cc: Governor Jerry Brown
Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg
Senator Bob Huff, Republican Leader
Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee
Members of the Senate Budget & Fiscal Review Committee
Members of the Senate Business, Professions & Economic Development Committee
Members of the Senate Education Committee
Speaker of the Assembly John Pérez
Assembly Member Connie Conway, Republican Leader
Members of the Assembly Appropriations Committee
Members of the Assembly Budget Committee
Members of the Assembly Education Committee
Members of the Assembly Higher Education Committee
Members of the Assembly Jobs, Economic Development & the Economy Committee
The Honorable Tom Torlakson, Superintendent of Public Instruction and Director of Education
Chancellor Brice Harris, California Community Colleges
Nancy McFadden, Executive Secretary for Legislation, Appointments and Policy, Office of Gov. Brown
Tim Rainey, Executive Director, California Workforce Investment Board
Mike Rossi, Senior Advisor on Jobs and Business Development, Office of Governor Jerry Brown
Go here for the full letter in PDF form with the attachments.