The Legislature’s effort in 2009 to give cash-strapped schools flexibility in the use of billions of dollars in categorical money has helped diminish the status of adult education programs operated by K-12 districts, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst reported Wednesday.
Charged with serving adults in need of the basic knowledge and skills they need to participate in civic life, adult education programs in California are generally overseen by either K-12 districts or community colleges – an unresolved division of responsibility that has plagued the system for decades.
In calling on lawmakers to conduct a “comprehensive restructuring” of the adult education program, LAO’s Paul Steenhausen noted that both school districts and community colleges have a role in serving the target population – but better collaboration is needed.
“While adult education falls under the purview of both community colleges and school districts, it is not the top statutory mission of either segment,” he reports.
The community college’s core mission is to provide academic and vocational programs at the lower-division collegiate level, he wrote.
“School districts’ core statutory and constitutional responsibility is for kindergarten through high school (K-12),” he explained in the report. “Furthermore, school districts are responsible for adult education only “to the extent” state support is provided.”
To resolve the conflict and to provide better service, the LAO recommended that lawmakers dedicate a revenue source that fosters cooperation between adult schools and community colleges.
“We envision a financing mechanism that includes a dedicated stream of funding for adult education, provides the same funding rate for the same instruction, rewards providers for student success, and aligns future allocations with program need,” the LAO reported.
Perhaps as the result of spending flexibility or the impact of the recession, today there are about 300 adult schools operated by K-12 districts – down from 335 in 2007. Another 112 programs are run by community colleges.
Because of a weak student data collection system, the LAO said there are no precise numbers on enrollment – the assumption is that because of ongoing budget cuts, there is likely a substantial unmet need.
After a close review of the system, Steenhausen said both K-12 districts and community colleges have strengths and weaknesses in managing adult programs. The recommendation, therefore, isn’t to give responsibility to one or the other but rather focus on providing more consistent outcomes.
“Fundamental terms and policies related to adult education lack consistency and coherence,” the analyst wrote. “Furthermore, coordination and accountability are uneven. Since budget cuts and flexibility, adult education has become a program adrift.”
Other key recommendations called on the Legislature to create a state-subsidized system focused on adult education’s core mission; provide common, statewide definitions that clearly differentiate between adult education and college education; impose a common set of policies relating to faculty qualifications, fees and student assessment; and set up an integrated data system that tracks student outcomes and helps the public hold providers accountable for results.