On March 28th, I testified before the D.C. Council Committee of the Whole on the Mayor’s proposed FY 2013 budget for the Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE). OSSE is the agency primarily responsible for funding adult and family literacy programs in the city, including re-granting the federal dollars the District received for adult and family literacy through Title II of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). There are other significant sources for adult education instructional services and support services in the District, including charter school funding and D.C. Public Library funding, but I was there to specifically testify on what is being proposed for adult and family literacy in the OSSE budget, because it remains not only the most significant source of funding for adult and family literacy programs, but, in theory, as the largest city funder, the de facto leader of the city’s efforts to address adult education.
In my testimony (you can download/read the whole thing here), I applaud the Mayor for his continuing commitment to adult and family education. Over the last few years, he and the members of the Council have consistently held the line on cuts to adult education when difficult choices have been made in other areas of the budget. It’s not exactly a victory to be level-funded (the budget contains the same amount of local funding for adult and family education as in FY12), but when you look at other parts of the country, where adult education systems are being decimated (do a search in the search engine of your choice for “Los Angeles Unified School District” and “Adult Education” and you’ll see I’m not exaggerating), it’s a victory of sorts that in tight budget conditions, current District leaders have resisted the temptation to cut this funding, although we are still substantially short of where we were during the Williams administration’s adult literacy initiative in the mid-2000′s.
And make no mistake, funding is still far short of what is needed. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), nearly 20% of adults living in the District today have “below basic” literacy skills. Nearly every one of these individuals would benefit from adult education—and many will struggle to find secure, sustainable employment or successfully complete job-training programs without it. In addition, evidence continues to mount that ignoring adult literacy skills inhibits our success as a city in improving our children’s school achievement.
A few years ago we found that at any given time there are as many as 500 students on waiting lists for services and we see no reason to believe that figure has gone down.
But even more distressing, the FY13 budget does not reflect or respond to the rapidly changing conditions occurring today in the adult education field. For one thing, programs helping adults prepare for the GED are facing a brand new GED assessment beginning in 2014. This new assessment will:
- Increase the demand for GED preparation classes over the next few years as students scramble to prepare for the current test before it changes.
- Require programs that help prepare adults for the GED to ramp up their computer capacity and invest in more professional development.
In its budget performance measures, OSSE does not even supply an estimate as to the number of adults receiving the GED in 2014, based on the fact that there will be “1) [a] new test, 2) fee increase from $50 to $120, and 3) [the] test will be all computer-based instead of paper-based.” They also add, “Historically, there has always been a drop in passers when the test is changed in anyway.”
This strikes me as an inadequate response to addressing this challenge. The District should begin investing the money now, in the FY13 budget, to prevent a drop off in test passers in 2014, including not just investing more in programs that serve this population, but also to consider expanding support for the External Diploma Program (EDP) and/or in establishing an additional alternative credential to the GED. Last year, funds from the Department of Employment Services were transferred to OSSE for an “accelerated learning” initiative designed to fast-track students at the higher levels of adult education to prepare and pass the GED—but there is no indication in this budget as to whether such a transfer will occur again in FY13.
Federal Support Declining
The second area of concern is that federal support for adult literacy is decreasing, and there is no reason to think this trend will not continue over the next several years.
- The budget for the most significant piece of federal funding, Title II of WIA, has been gradually declining the last few years.
- In addition, last year, Congress eliminated Even Start funding—the single most important federal source for family literacy funding.
Without a greater local investment in adult education, programs can’t be expected to sustain the same level of adult and family education services in FY13 going forward as the field currently provides. We know that more data about the areas of greatest need would be helpful, and yes, long-term strategies eventually need to be developed in order to make significant progress on this issue—but we also know, right now, that an additional investment in existing programs today would immediately change the lives of thousands of people who can’t afford to wait around for us to develop those strategies.