True to his word, Mayor Fenty has made public education a top priority in his proposed Fiscal Year 2011 budget. As the DC Fiscal Policy Institute reports, funding would be cut in all major areas except education, which would receive a 4% increase.
Most of the increase would cover higher costs projected for special education and further expansion of charter schools. The remainder would offset the loss of federal economic stimulus funds that helped support the public school system this year.
The investment in early childhood, elementary and secondary education makes all the sense in the world. Recent improvements notwithstanding, national test scores show that the D.C. public education system is still leaving large percentages of disadvantaged children behind. Money won’t solve the problem. But the problem won’t be solved without it.
But what about the grownups the system has already failed–and those who came here without a decent basic education and/or competency in the English language?
According to 2008 Census Bureau data, nearly 13% of D.C. adults 18-24 years old and more than 14% of those 25 years and older lack a high school diploma or GED–this when 77.5% of local jobs recently posted online required at least a bachelor’s degree.
The issue is not just a missing piece of paper. A 2007 report for the State Education Agency estimated that about 36% of D.C. adults functioned at the lowest literacy level. This means they probably couldn’t read well enough to fill out an application, let alone understand an instruction manual.
These adults will, at best, be stuck in low-wage jobs, unless they have opportunities for further education and training. They won’t be able to do much to help their children with schoolwork either.
So what does the mayor proposed for them?
- A $965,000 cut in local funding for adult and family education grants. These are the grants that fund programs for the left-behinds and left-outs, e.g., basic education, English literacy and GED preparation and testing.
- A $5 million cut in local funding for adult training.
- About $600,000 less for the transitional employment program, which combines work-readiness training and short-term subsidized jobs. Added to previous cuts, the budget would be $2.3 million less than in Fiscal Year 2009.
- A $1.5 million cut for year-round youth employment programs. These are the programs that can help out-of-school, out-of-work 16-24 year olds get the education and skills they need to compete in our job market.
We understand that this is a tough budget year. But cutbacks in programs that can move low-income District residents into good, full-time jobs is hardly the way to cope with the shortfall.
Consider, among other things, the lost tax revenues as two-thirds of the jobs here continue to be filled by non-residents. Consider how the egregiously high unemployment and under-employment rates in our poorer wards are deepening the divide between the haves and the have-nots.
NOTE: I am, as always, indebted to DCFPI’s budget fact sheets for figures. Thanks also to DCFPI Policy Analyst Katie Kerstetter for helping me parse the administration’s budget tables and to Jeff Carter, Executive Director of DC Learns, for insights into the implications of the proposal for adult education.