Adult schools threatened

Jeff vonKaenel

Imagine that you have recently moved to the United States, and you do not speak English. You cannot converse with your neighbors. You have a hard time shopping at stores. You are constantly misunderstood and made to feel like a fool. It is humiliating that your 8-year-old child has to speak for you.

Or imagine that you did not finish high school. For some reason, you dropped out. But now, you are ready and willing to apply yourself. You need that high-school diploma before you can take college classes, or to qualify for the job that will take you and your family out of poverty.

Or, perhaps, you have a dead-end, mind-numbing, just-over-the-minimum-wage job. You know you can do better. But you need training and skills. How and where to get them?

Now imagine that in your own neighborhood there is a school. Not a school with little kids or teenagers. But a school with grown-ups. Adults like you who are struggling with English or who need a high-school diploma or training. And there are teachers who want to help you.

This is what we once had in California. For 150 years, California built up one of the country’s best adult-education systems. Just a few years ago, we had more than 1 million students attending 300 adult schools. It is hard to calculate how much our society and economy have benefited from our wonderful adult-education program.

But now, we are destroying these programs. School districts used to have separate funds for the K-12 and adult-schools programs. Starting with the 2008-2009 school year, the state Legislature allowed them to mingle funds. And in most communities, the adult schools suffered.

In 2012, the Little Hoover Commission found that between 2006 and 2010, the number of adult students had dropped from 1.2 million to 770,000. The numbers are likely lower now. And if Gov. Jerry Brown has his way, these numbers are going to get worse still. In 2007-2008, California earmarked $750 million for adult-education courses. Now, the governor wants to dismantle the adult-school infrastructure and give the community colleges $300 million to run core classes such as English and vocational programs. This is a gigantic mistake.

Education is more than budgets and classrooms. It is also about love and teachers who care deeply about their students. Teachers who could earn more elsewhere but who choose to work with adult students.

In the last few months, as SN&R’s publisher, I have been designing outreach publications for the adult schools in Sacramento and the Bay Area. I have seen this love over and over again. I do not believe these adult learners would get the same respect or attention at the community colleges. To make adult education a secondary task for the community colleges will not work. Instead of destroying our adult-school programs, we should be expanding them.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.