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Slow Strangulation’ Of Adult Ed Will Mean 1,000 Fewer Students For Sweetwater

Students practice checking one another's blood pressure in a career-technical...

Photo by Matthew Bowler / KPBS

Above: Students practice checking one another's blood pressure in a career-technical class at San Ysidro Adult School, part of Sweetwater Adult Education, April 27, 2017.

The Sweetwater Union High School District is expected to approve its budget of more than $450 million Monday. The district has largely averted cuts, but its adult program will have to serve a thousand fewer students next year.

Sweetwater Adult School is cutting its classes by 10 percent. They include parenting, English-language, citizenship and career-technical courses. The budget gap reflects years of flat state funding for adult education and rising pension costs.

“It’s like a slow strangulation of the program,” Sweetwater Adult Education Director Ryan Burke said. “Everything costs more, so one by one we’re having to cut classes to pay the bills.”

RELATED: Proposed Rule Change For Adult ESL Classes Could Impact Children

Sweetwater Union has used its general fund to backfill some of the need, and is expected to do the same next year. Burke said without the district’s help, a quarter of classes would have to go.

“Yes the district is able to help and they are helping. But they’re also responsible for paying for (middle and high school) education,” Burke said. “Any dollar they commit to us is another dollar they don’t have for 7-12.”

Adult education funding has been frozen at recession-era levels as the legislature and schools work to restructure the system, which developed as a patchwork across K-12 districts and community colleges. Advocates like Burke say it is time to look at funding again.

"The Division of Adult Education provides a safety net to families who need a GED or need to improve their English skills to get their first job or look for a better job," said teacher Erica Dibello-Hitta. "They also offer short-term career classes that are much more affordable than those at private colleges. A loss of any classes would hurt our community."

Federal funding makes up a much smaller portion of adult school funding but could also be in jeopardy. President Donald Trump has said he’d like to cut career-technical education by $168 million. The House this week passed a generous reauthorization bill for career-technical education spending. It’s unclear if it will pass the Senate, or if the president would sign it.

Sweetwater Adult School is cutting its classes by 10 percent. They include parenting, English-language, citizenship and career-technical courses.

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