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Marjorie Faulstich Orellana Headshot

A Lesson in Adult Education

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On March 13th, the Los Angeles Unified School District authorized a worst-case scenario budget that would eliminate education for adults unless other hoped-for means of balancing the budget are achieved. The logic that the school board seemed to use is that it's easier to take the ax to an entire category of spending than to make smaller cuts across the board. Perhaps the thought was that this would concentrate any dissent in a small sector. Indeed, the sector that was excised is one that has very little political clout -- poor, working, and immigrant adults who, unlike compulsory students served in K-12 schools, voluntarily seek out education to improve their lives. Educating these students actually requires only a very small investment from the LAUSD that reaches remarkably far: a miniscule portion of the district's LAUSD's budget supports these adults, who comprise nearly one-third of the district's total student population.

Adult Education matters: It provides opportunities for immigrants to learn English, as they are so often criticized for not doing. It allows those who have been pushed out of school, because of family responsibilities or economic hardship, to return and earn their high school diplomas. It offers job skills training for those who are struggling to find work in a tough economy. And its effects reach far beyond the population it serves, because educated and employed adults are better able to provide for their children and prepare them for school than are parents who themselves have not had the benefit of an education.

Saving Adult Education and averting a worst-case budget for the LAUSD could happen in one of three ways: If a windfall of more state revenue quickly materializes on the horizon; if the district and the United Teachers of Los Angeles settle a dispute over a cut in pay dealt to teachers through furlough days; or, if voters overwhelmingly approve the LAUSD Parcel Tax and Governor's tax ballot measures in November.

Passing these measures will not be easy, given that California, unlike most other states, requires a 2/3 majority of voters as well as a 2/3 majority of the legislature. Naturally, the tax ballot measures are an attempt to stop the hemorrhaging of money that's been draining for nearly 35 years from California's public schools ever since the passage of Proposition 13 limited property taxes to 1976 values, thereby restricting local school funding, as well.

Then recently, like a stack of dominoes toppling into one another, funding for public schools collapsed further when property values reflexively imploded as a result of wild financial speculation by Goldman Sachs and other big shot investment firms, which led directly to a glut of value-sapping foreclosures that may continue to depress the tax base for years to come.

Unless taxpayers agree to help public education by changing property tax laws, or teachers are forced to take unpaid days, or some other revenue stream magically appears -- and until political will is also mustered to make the rich pay their fair share -- the problem remains that the LAUSD, like many other entities in the state of California, still faces a budget shortfall.

As serious as that budget shortfall is, however, it makes no sense to throw the ax at all of Adult Education. The Adult Education program uses only about 2% of the LAUSD's budget and serves almost one-third -- 27.7% -- of the total number of students in the school district. The district spends 12% of its budget -- $793 million -- on "Other Operating Expenses." Why not make smaller cuts across the board, so that no one group is totally sacrificed? At the very least, the LAUSD should explain exactly what these "other" budget expenses are, and why the ax shouldn't fall there instead.

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