Adult education programs in Oakland Unified School District have shrunk from a once-broad menu of courses to a program limited to general educational development (GED), tech education and family literacy classes.
Subsisting on a budget of $1 million, Adult Ed resources are down by $1.2 million from last year. The current adult education budget for OUSD has dwindled to 5% of what it was in 2007. The cuts in turn have forced a severe reduction in students: 12,000 students are being served this year, less than half of the 25,000 students enrolled in 2007-2008.
The cuts are reflective of a statewide trend, said Chris Nelson, the director of Oakland Regional Consortium for Adult Education, noting 75 schools throughout California have disbanded their adult education programs.
After the state education department’s decision earlier this year to cut off funding for local adult ed and to redirect resources to community colleges, the OUSD Board of Education in March 2013 voted to end adult education altogether.
Following mass protests led by teachers and students demanding that adult education be reinstated, the state education department, and subsequently OUSD’s board of education, reversed the decision in May. OUSD has long struggled financially. It underwent six years of control by the state, returning to local control during a deep recession in 2009. After struggling to regain solvency, the district received a critical state audit in May that blasted its accounting practices as inadequate – a conclusion the district challenged.
Prior to the March vote to end adult education, 70% of the OUSD budget for adult education had already been redirected to other programs. Funds once dedicated to adult education became “flexible” in 2008-2009, meaning that the money could be used for other purposes.
Since adult education was reinstated in May, there have been attempts to revive programs. In June 2013, Assembly Bill 86 was signed into law to provide the state $25 million in a regional consortium grant. The grant aims to encourage coordination between adult education programs offered in school districts and community colleges.
Applications for the consortium grant will be accepted in January 2014. The Oakland Regional Consortium is currently in its beginning stages of planning but will include programs that span Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Piedmont and Oakland.
Just as the voices of Oakland teachers, students and parents helped reinitiate adult education, the regional consortium will incorporate feedback from diverse sources. “We’re going to be getting the input of a lot of different stakeholders: administrators, the workforce investment board, the city of Oakland and adult learners,” said Nelson.
Although many vocational classes such as nursing certification and administrative training programs were cut this year, GED and family literacy classes were maintained at nine and 10 respectively.
Sue Pon, the administrator of adult and career education at OUSD, said family literacy classes have maintained their popularity and GED instruction has intensified. With test changes coming, she explained that there’s a district-wide effort to ensure that all students pass the current GED test before a new one is rolled out in December.
Despite reductions, parents, teachers and students insist that adult education is essential.
Maria Valente has been taking GED classes at OUSD off and on for the past year. She said that such courses have helped her advance her situation.
“It gives me another opportunity. I got pregnant and, during that time, it’s difficult for a student to attend school. It’s ideal for people who are trying to do something,” said Valente.
Now finishing her dental assistant program — which she wouldn’t have been able to complete without the GED classes — she added, “I want to be a role-model for my baby.”
“I think it’s important because we’re serving a population that has some very specific needs,” said Chris Nelson. “For example, in our GED program, most of the students are former district students. Some are current parents so we feel an obligation to help them attain a diploma.”
Sue Pon also said that adult education has a crucial place in the OUSD. The district’s holistic approach to addressing the needs of children requires that the parents be similarly educated.
Pon cited a program called Parents and Children Together (PACT) at Lafayette Elementary School, where the family literacy class focuses on coordinating science lessons for the whole family.
“During PACT, they happened to see the same science experiment that they learned in their own class,” said Pon. “They can have a conversation with their children at home.”