Out of the Shadows and Into the Spotlight? Basic Skills Education

California’s ongoing budget crisis could help focus attention on a very important but relatively obscure part of the state’s educational system: courses for adults in basic literacy and math.

Basic skills education helps adults finish high school, develop the skills they need for higher-wage jobs, and succeed in vocational training and college, while ensuring that employers have a trained and competitive workforce. These courses are also critical for thousands of California’s high school graduates who have been accepted into the California State University or the University of California but are not ready for college-level academics.

As we discuss in a new policy brief, the Legislature has made significant funding cuts to basic skills education. In fact, funding for the Adult Education Program of the California Department of Education (AEP) is now “flexible,” so school districts can use their basic skills funding for whatever they choose – even if it means shutting the doors on these programs. School districts and community colleges across the state are struggling to balance their reduced funding and their communities’ full range of educational needs. When weighed against programs for children and demand for job training, extra help for adults who can’t read or do math well is not always seen as the most urgent need.

The funding crisis also presents an opportunity, however – a chance to consider reforms that could make the basic skills “system” more efficient while helping students improve their skills more quickly. Our policy brief explores key issues about the distribution of funding, accountability for students’ learning, and coordination of the AEP and community colleges that should be considered in any review of the state’s shadow system of basic skills education.

— Vicky Lovell

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