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San Diego Educators Seek More Funding For Adult Ed Classes As Demand Increases

Students raise their hands in an adult education class in this undated photo.

Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Above: Students raise their hands in an adult education class in this undated photo.

Administrators at local adult schools say they are seeing greater demand for English-language courses and classes that help immigrants prepare for the citizenship exam. But the demand comes after eight years of flat funding from the state.

Administrators at local adult schools say they're seeing greater demand for English-language courses and classes that help immigrants prepare for the citizenship exam. But the demand comes after eight years of flat funding from the state.

The schools are tucked into some of San Diego's K-12 school districts. Adult education classes also help people earn their high school diplomas and get into higher paying jobs. But unlike the school districts, adult education programs haven't seen state budget increases since before the recession.

That's why administrators from the schools visited the state's capital Monday, the start of Adult Education Week.

"We're here to help Californians advance their lives, and that's good for the state, it's good for the individual, it's good for the families," said Ryan Burke, director of Sweetwater Adult Schools.

He said current funding has barely kept pace with teacher salaries and benefits — next year Sweetwater Union High School District will dip into its general fund to help out the once self-sustaining department. And it's kept the department from expanding in-demand programs.

Escondido Adult School in the North County charges modest fees for its classes, so it's been able to add some class sections. But Principal Dom Gagliardi said personnel costs are rising there, too, and he hasn't been able to grow the school as much as he'd like.

Adult school budgets have not only been flat, they haven't been made whole. In 2008 the state let districts dip into the adult pot to help K-12 schools ride out the recession.

The Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that year, districts across the state spent between $317 million and $381 million on adult education — down from $635 million. After the recession, the state required them to maintain that lower level of funding. Ever since, the state has earmarked $375 for base funding for adult education and an additional $125 million to be distributed across high-need areas.

“Our state should do more to support these vital programs and identify a consistent source of funding," said Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, in a statement. "Adult education helps to boost our economies by empowering our communities. The Governor’s budget should consider additional investments into these programs to increase the prosperity of our Californian families.”

Adult education programs at community colleges have also seen cuts, but remain relatively healthy because they're funded through the state's higher education budget, which has been rising.

The state has been working to restructure the adult education system altogether. It wants community college-based and district-based programs to work together. And it wants to set consistent student outcomes and data reporting requirements.

With a clearer bar to reach and state-approved data, asking for funding could be an easier lift in the coming years.

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