Sunday, February 19, 2012

SAVE ADULT ED: Funding for K-12 must come first but adult education classes provide benefits that can't be ignored so options must be found to keep program alive

long beach press telegram editorial |

2/19/2012  ::  AMID the L.A. schools' budget crisis, the most emotional reaction has been inspired not by an issue directly affecting children - but by an issue directly affecting adults (and their children). A proposal that would have virtually scrapped public adult education in the Los Angeles Unified School District was met with a petition drive netting 200,000 signatures, demonstrations outside district headquarters and heartfelt speeches at what was expected to be a pivotal school-board meeting last week.

No wonder: At a time when poverty is on people's minds more than usual, adult ed offers a chance for the poor to lift themselves up. It is not a handout but a way for those with the will to succeed to earn better lives for themselves and their families. Its elimination would take away affordable vocational training, English and math classes, and GED and diploma programs from as many as 300,000 students - and deny their children the handed-down benefits, not only financial but scholastic, of having more accomplished parents.

Adult ed, as well as early-childhood and after-school and elementary arts programs, won a reprieve Tuesday when the board voted to delay its budget decision for a month to give officials a chance to find additional funding or find other programs to cut. So, now comes the hard part. Hard, but necessary.

Los Angeles Unified is suffering from declining state funding because of the state's money trouble and the district's declining enrollment.

Like many of the fiscal decisions government agencies have faced in these lean times, the LAUSD's pits two principles against each other. Should it preserve "core services" and shed programs it deems nonessential, or should it lay out a plan for "shared sacrifice" among all departments?

The core services would be, according to LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, the education of kindergarten- through-high-school students. To preserve as much of the K-12 program as possible, Deasy would have the board take $178 million from adult ed.

If it comes down to a choice, the only right one is to fund the district's main mission - K-12 education. But it might not have to come down to such an all-or-nothing decision.

There are ways to save adult ed - partnerships, fee enhancement, teacher pay cuts. School and civic leaders should consider these options before ending the program. There is an assumption in this discussion that it's purely a zero-sum game, that taking funding away from adult ed will help children. This slights the importance of adult ed in raising the standards of living of not just adults but their kids.

And this skims over the roll of adult ed in providing better-trained workers for a recovering economy. A lot of people, and companies, will lose out if the $1,200 aviation-mechanics training program at LAUSD's North (San Fernando) Valley Occupational Center in Mission Hills were faced with spending $35,000 for the private alternative, one of the examples reporter Barbara Jones cited in an article last week.

Yes, community colleges provide some classes that are similar to those in adult ed program. But in many cases, we're talking about students who are not ready for community-college-level programs.

The issues are not unique to Los Angeles. Adult ed is in the crosshairs in school districts all over the state; in Long Beach, cutbacks have reduced enrollment from 10,000 four years ago to 1,500 now.

The challenge is to save as much of adult ed as possible. An L.A. teachers-union official said employees might be willing to accept cuts. Administration staffing is always a tempting target for reductions. Surely, raising registration fees for students would be better than shuttering entire programs. If the industries that benefit from trained workers haven't stepped forward with offers to help, they should be shamed into doing it.

And there is the possibility of financial aid in the form of Gov. Jerry Brown's tax-hike initiative, aimed at bailing out education, and Deasy's proposed parcel-tax measure, which could raise $200 million a year.

All possibilities should be considered. Adult education does too many good things to be easily swept aside.

Save it for the adults' sake. Save it for their kids' sake.

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