Adult Education And Training Get The Ax In Proposed DC Budget

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.

6 Responses to Adult Education And Training Get The Ax In Proposed DC Budget

  1. Matt McKillop says:

    All great points, Kathryn. Here’s one more:

    It is reasonable to assume that many of the adults you cite as lacking the basic skills needed to compete in DC’s high-skill workforce also have students in DCPS. I suspect many of them find it difficult to assist their children with material they are struggling with in school–something that any teacher will tell you is vital to a student’s success. So retrenching efforts to educate low-skill adults undermines Mayor Fenty’s laudable priority of improving the public school system.

  2. Great points, Kathryn. At the National Transitional Jobs Network we continue to work towards educating stakeholders around the country about the need for and importance of Transitional Jobs programs for low-income individuals with barriers to getting and keeping a job. In the midst of the economic recession, we know that low-income individuals and those that face challenges to getting and keeping a job have been disproportionately impacted – and will continue to be impacted despite growth in the economy. Cuts in an existing Transitional employment program in DC only worsens an already bleak situation for many who may have had opportunities to get a foothold in the labor market through Transitional Jobs programs in the District. Please access our website for more information about Transitional Jobs at http://www.transitionaljobs.net.

  3. […] can get a glimpse of what this will mean in the mayor’s proposals for child care subsidies, adult education and training, affordable housing programs, community health services, legal aid for low-income residents and […]

  4. 14% lacking a high school diploma isn’t that bad actually..

  5. Kathryn Baer says:

    I agree that the percent in itself doesn’t seem very high. It becomes a problem because of the demands of the local job market. Even jobs for which a high school diploma suffices in many places, require a college degree here. Recall too that the District doesn’t have any manufacturing sector, which still, in many places, provides good-paying jobs for people with very limited formal education.

  6. Kathryn Baer says:

    I agree that the percent itself doesn’t seem very high. It’s a problem because of the demands of our local job market. Even jobs that in many places are open to people with only a high school diploma or the equivalent require a four-year college degree in the D.C. area. Consider too that the District doesn’t have a manufacturing sector, which in many places still offers good-paying jobs for people with limited formal education.

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