California’s adult education program is delivered statewide through the Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG). This program has been funded annually at $500 million since its inception in 2015-16. To understand the AEBG, it is worth reviewing the recent past that led to its creation.
Before Recession: Prior to 2009, K-12 adult education in California was funded at $780 million. Additionally, about 30 percent of the entire program was offered through the community colleges as a part of their delivery system. The severe cuts to K-12 education in 2009 led to districts being allowed to use categorical restricted funding flexibly and as needed, and this included adult education. With flexibility, school districts reduced adult education funding by about 50 percent statewide.
Post-Recession: As the economy rebounded and Proposition 30 was passed to increase state revenues, adult education resurfaced within the context of whether it should be in K-12 districts or community colleges. The Legislative Analyst Office (LAO), after an extensive study of adult education, recommended in December 2012 that it continue in K-12 districts with a proviso that included working with community college districts through regional consortia.
AB 86: As part of the 2013-14 budget, AB 86 froze adult education funding in K-12 districts. More important, AB 86 carried adult education forward by establishing 71 consortia statewide to create plans for delivering adult education programs. $25 million was earmarked to support the consortia plans developed by K-12 and community college districts.
Current Status and Future of the AEBG:
AB 104: Another budget bill, AB 104 in 2015, established the AEBG with $500 million for the 71 consortia. AB 104 identifies governing provisions, allowable adult education programs, and outcome expectations. The California Department of Education (CDE) and the California Community Colleges (CCC) are assigned agency responsibility for the program. $500 million was again provided for 2016-17 for the AEBG; this same amount is now proposed for 2017-18.
LAO Report: To assess the AEBG, AB 104 required CDE and the CCC to submit a summative report by Fall 2016. In March 2017, the LAO reported to the legislature that the aforementioned report fell short of meeting the reporting requirements by failing to provide useful information on program outcomes, effectiveness of each consortium, recommendations on delivery and improved alignment, unduplicated number of individuals served, aligning assessment and data, fee policies, and teacher reciprocity between adult education and community colleges.
Future: In spite of the LAO report, which places the AEBG at risk for funding, this program remains one that should continue for two major reasons: it is one of the state’s approaches to addressing workforce development and income inequities, and it delivers the education critical to citizenship. The points identified in the LAO report need to be addressed. The AEBG has great potential if the intent of AB 104 is met through focusing on clear expectations and leveraging resources.