Cuts threaten classes that teach basic skills – from

Cuts threaten classes that teach basic skills

Barbara Baran,Vicky Lovell

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

As the unemployment rate reaches record highs and the recession strips workers of jobs that may never come back, adult education classes that teach basic skills – English and math skills necessary for success in jobs, community colleges, universities or vocational education – are in growing demand. And it’s no wonder: Learning these skills can move workers into higher-demand industries now and when the economy starts to grow again.
Until the budget crisis hit, the Legislature had increased funding for these classes that serve more than 1.5 million Californians on more than 110 community college campuses and in more than 350 adult schools. The Legislature, community colleges and California Department of Education had begun to recognize the central role these courses play as the gateway to postsecondary academic and vocational education. Strengthening basic skills is essential not only for individuals’ economic security but for the state’s economic strength and competitiveness.
Reforms were under way to increase the number of Californians who transitioned from these classes to two- and four-year colleges and to high-quality training programs. The Legislature created a program to train basic-skills teachers. The need and demand for basic-skills education had become clear. California ranks last among all the states in the share of adults who have basic literacy skills, and the Legislative Analyst’s Office found that, among students starting postsecondary education, about 9 in 10 community college students, more than half of California State University students, and approximately one-third of UC students do not have the skills to successfully complete college-level coursework.
But the state’s budget crisis has suddenly put all state basic-skills funding at risk. Budgets for the community colleges and the California Department of Education Adult Education programs, which primarily provide these adult education classes, were cut in the February budget agreement. Perhaps more significantly, the February budget agreement folded Adult Education funding into a block grant, allowing school districts to use that funding for other education programs. And now the governor has proposed additional cuts to school and community college budgets, including cuts to programs that assess students’ need for basic-skills education and support teacher training and curriculum development. The funding cuts will make it increasingly difficult for community colleges to offer any programs outside a narrowly defined view of their academic mission and will roll back the state’s recent steps toward making basic-skills programs more effective.
All together these changes threaten the state’s ability to continue to provide basic-skills education to high school graduates as well as thousands of high school dropouts and working adults who lack basic English and math skills. Budget cuts are already being translated into restrictions on enrollment, fewer course offerings and teacher layoffs. But there’s a collective cost, too.
Dismantling these efforts is likely to ensure that the next generation of workers will be the first in the state’s history to have lower levels of educational attainment than the generation that preceded it, threatening California’s economic future.

Barbara Baran is a senior fellow with the California Budget Project, a nonpartisan public policy research group. Vicky Lovell is a senior policy analyst with the California Budget Project. For more information, go to

This article appeared on page A – 11 of the San Francisco Chronicle


1 Comment»

  Julie wrote @

As a society we have watched this process unfold. Our students in special education classes, who have benefited from vocational study programs, are also being singled out. We have to ask, what type of future are we preparing our children for?

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