Defacing Adult Education: California Schools Threatened with Extinction

Thrusting his hands into the air, Ho Wing Wong sent a cheer into the crowd who gathered recently at San Mateo Adult School. “I can vote for the President this year! Woohoo! he cried.” A resounding cheer reverberated back from students, teachers and administrators at a rally/press conference to draw attention to the cuts that have already been made in adult education and potential cuts on the horizon. Ho Wing Wong and his wife Linda emigrated from Hong Kong seven years ago and have the adult school to thank for teaching them English—enabling them to study for the citizenship exam and become naturalized U.S. citizens.

A grandmother protesting cuts at rally in San Mateo, California

Achievements like this take place every day throughout adult schools in California. The fate of these students and 350,000 to 400,000 more  currently rests in the hands of state legislators. They are already utilizing policies that allow school districts to take money from adult education and move it to K-12 schools—in short, robbing Peter to pay Paul

Many adult students are immigrants. One of the biggest complaints about immigrants is that immigrants are a drain on society. Yet when they talk about their goals, whether they are from Mexico or Latin America, Turkey, Pakistan, the Philippines or China, participating fully in society is at the top of their lists. Getting a job, voting and paying taxes is far more likely to happen if they can learn to speak English, get a GED and/or gain vocational skills.

At the rally, several mothers held up handmade signs with their messages, “Please we need adult school to support next generation.” Half of all children in California have at least one immigrant parent.

Lizzi Arena and her daughter Alexa took the podium. Having never finished high school, Lizzi decided after 26 years to get her GED. She succeeded, inspiring Alexa to enroll and earn her high school diploma. Alexa had dropped out of regular public high school after a bombing there traumatized her.

Oscar Espinoza feels indebted to San Mateo Adult School. He explained how hard he studied in English class, then got a job and returned later to acquire technical skills. That landed him a better job in facilities maintenance. The 2010 census showedthe differential in mean income between high school dropouts and high school graduates as $10,000, a critical jump in an unforgiving economy.

Parents, workers & seniors fighting more cuts to adult education

A few other young men I spoke with who attend adult school in nearby Redwood City are obtaining their GEDs determined to get jobs and help their families. Are they unusual? Not at all. Five million Californian adults don’t have high school diplomas.

So why have so many adult education programs in California already been slashed? And why are more devastating cuts being planned?

Technically it’s due to a 2008 state provision that allows cities to take money from adult education and put it into children’s education.

In reality, the assault on adult education is like the cuts in all social services. The California Budget Project reported in 2011, “Over the past three decades, the cost of funding state services has shifted from corporations to personal income tax filers.” Major institutions including well-endowed universities and large corporations pay insufficient or no state taxes even though they reap large profits and benefits from doing business here. The same report stated, “The most costly corporate tax credit is the Research and Development Credit. In 2008, 2,483 corporations claimed $1.2 billion in R&D credits, an average of $497,197 per firm.”

Many adult education cuts have already occurred. Oakland’s program has been eviscerated. Once serving 25,000 adults, it now serves only about 1,000 people annually.

Student protesting cuts in adult education

The L.A. Board of Education voted earlier this year to ax adult education altogether. But local teachers and students wouldn’t have it. Two hundred  thousand people readily signed a petition and protested the move using a diverse array of actions. They wouldn’t let up until the decision was finally modified. It is still not clear what portion of the L.A. program will continue. Matthew Kogan, chair of the California Teachers Association Adult Ed Caucus who was a key organizer in the reversal explains why the cuts make no sense. “A good economy is based on good paychecks. And good paychecks come from good jobs. . . You get good jobs through good education.”

The absurdity of such shortsighted decisions to cut adult education is this. Legislators are trying to balance the budget, right? It only costs $500 per student annually to provide adult education classes. Yet it costs $47,000 annually to house a prisoner. I am not suggesting a link between the two. I am saying that our state legislators have priorities all messed up.

So why do they have their heads in the sand? I suggest you write your legislators and find out. Or simply tell them how you feel about the necessity of adult education. Finally, Patricia Brown, a veteran teacher of 17 years at San Mateo Adult School and the local AFT union president recommends a strong yes vote on Governor Brown’s budget initiative in the fall elections, which raises additional revenue by increasing the tax rate on those making $250,000 or more a year for seven years. It also raises revenue by making us pay ¼ cent more tax on purchases. The unions negotiated that rate down from ½ cent. Leveling the playing field between the wealthy and the rest of us is a step in the right direction. If this initiative does not pass, adult education will definitely be eliminated.

Patricia Brown, veteran teacher, addresses crowd

Note: Since the rally, the “weighted student formula,” which would, in effect, eliminate funding for California adult schools altogether, has been taken off the table. While this is great news, assistant director of San Mateo Adult School, Tim Doyle, pointed out before the latest decision, “Even if it [the weighted student formula] doesn’t go through in this particular budget proposal, it will come back again….Without dedicated funding, we’re gone.”


  1. Great article! This should be in Oakland Local and many other Bay Area/CA media. The combination of personal stories and hard data made for an informative and moving read. Thanks Leanne!

  2. Alicia Orozco says:

    great article Leanne. thank you for sharing it.

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