(CALMATTERS) – California’s system for funding adult education is “fundamentally flawed and at odds with the state’s program goals” and should be completely redesigned, according to a pack-no-punches Tuesday report from the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal advisor. And, the Legislative Analyst’s Office argues, there’s no time like the present to overhaul the California Adult Education Program, which receives annual funding of nearly $600 million: Not only are Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers currently crafting their budget proposals for the next fiscal year, but education programs are also swimming in surplus pandemic cash even as enrollment has dropped — making it “an opportune time to implement the new model, as the impact likely will be less disruptive” than it might have been otherwise.

Among the “drawbacks” the Legislative Analyst’s Office identified in the state’s current funding system for adult education, which helps adult Californians learn to speak English, pass U.S. citizenship exams, receive job training, earn high school diplomas and prepare to enter college, among other things:

  • Adult schools charge fees, even though most students are low-income and community colleges serving similar groups either don’t charge fees or waive them. The fees “could be an impediment for some students and contribute further to both unequal access and considerable variation in program quality” across adult schools.
  • Adult school funding isn’t linked to student attendance or to provider performance. Changing that could help improve declining student outcomes: The share of adult students earning a high school diploma or its equivalent increased by just 1.1 percentage point between 2016-17 and 2018-19, before dropping by more than 4 percentage points over the next two years.
  • Addressing these issues by implementing the legislative analyst’s proposed model wouldn’t cost California more money than it’s currently spending, and could actually cost less.