Cross-posted from Poverty & Policy
Written by Kathryn Baer
Adult Educators and Adult Learners Lobby at the Wilson Building
“We have jobs and we have people,” says DC Appleseed’s Deputy Director. “But the education people have doesn’t fit the jobs available.” The real problem, however, as she goes on to suggest, is the education that many people don’t have.
This isn’t a rerun of the oft-debunked skills gap myth — at least so far as the District of Columbia is concerned. The extraordinarily high high unemployment rates in the poorer parts of the city apparently reflect a lack of minimal education credentials — and skills they’re supposed to indicate.
About 60,000 residents 18 years and older lack a high school diploma or the equivalent. An even larger number “likely lack the basic … skills needed to succeed in training, postsecondary education and the workforce,” according to a new DC Appleseed report.
Of the deplorably few adults in programs supported by funds the Office of the State Superintendent of Education administers, more than half who weren’t learning English as a second language have consistently tested below 6th grade level.
This means they’re ineligible for any of the programs the Department of Employment Services makes available through an Individual Training Account and also for most of the programs offered by our local community college.
Even residents who test higher often fail the GED exams. Their pass rate in 2012 was 55.2% — the third lowest in the country. And the exams got tougher this year.
Yet more than three-quarters of all jobs in the District will require some postsecondary education by 2020, according to the latest projections by experts at Georgetown University.
In short, as things stand now, we’re looking at a very large number of working-age residents whose chances of full-time, living-wage jobs are dismal.
And as if that weren’t enough, we’ve research indicating links between parents’ education (or lack of same) and their children’s success in school. On the downside, children whose parents are functionally illiterate are twice as likely to be illiterate themselves.
This isn’t only because poverty rates are highest among adults without a high school diploma or GED — well over 33% in the District for those 25 and older. But all the daily impacts of poverty, e.g., hunger, homelessness, stress, obviously play a part.
Plowing more money into the rest of the education system, as the Mayor proposes, won’t deliver the hoped-for bang for the buck if the basic education needs of parents are neglected, as DC Learns warned several years ago.
DC Appleseed’s report identifies a range of problems in the District’s approach to adult education — including, but not limited to inadequate funding.
It outlines steps toward a long-range solution — essentially, an integrated system that connects basic skills development to career pathways. The DC Council could lay the groundwork with the initial $2.5 million the report recommends.
But the Council should also increase funding for the adult education programs we have now — both to serve more residents and to support better results.
I wish I could tell you what the Mayor’s budget proposes. But it’s characteristically opaque — partly, but not entirely because of the fragmentation DC Appleseed documents.
This much I’ve been able to parse.
The handful of charter schools that provide adult education would get more per pupil, as would the two regular public schools that do.
They’d still get less per pupil than what schools would get for any other type of student. And the new extra weight that’s supposed to boost funds for schools with students who’ve been designated “at risk” won’t apply, though some of the adults surely meet the same criteria, e.g., eligibility for SNAP (food stamp) benefits.
OSSE would get less for the adult education grants it provides. The proposed budget indicates a cut of about $3.8 million. This apparently reflects the fact that the Department of Employment Services won’t be transferring funds, as it did this fiscal year.
The Fair Budget Coalition had recommended that the baseline budget for adult education, i.e., the estimated costs of preserving current services, include these funds — a $5.5 million addition, according to FBC.
Hard to believe that the Mayor and his people couldn’t have found the money. They’ve instead put $3 million for adult literacy on the list of items to be funded if revenues prove higher than projected.
Let’s just say this is a mere gesture, since it would take $59.8 million to fund the priorities ranked higher. Setting this pie-in-the-sky aside, the total requested for all the programs that, in one way or the other, address the adult basic skills deficit might serve more residents than in Fiscal 2013.
But they then served at most about 8,000, according to DC Appleseed. That’s a far cry from meeting the need.