State analyst’s office recommends overhaul of adult education

California’s system for funding adult education needs a complete redesign, according to a Dec. 13 report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which called the current methodology “fundamentally flawed and at odds with the state’s program goals.”

The brief, Redesigning California’s Adult Education Funding Model, noted several key issues linked to the current funding system for adult education, which helps many learn to speak English, pass U.S. citizenship exams, receive job training, earn high school diplomas and prepare to enter college. Key among them:

Adult school funding isn’t linked to student attendance or to provider performance. Changing that could help improve declining student outcomes, according to the LAO. 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.

Creating a stronger financial incentive for adult education providers to serve students well and collaborate in ways that accelerate student success could reverse this trend. This could be accomplished in part by adding a performance‑based component to both California Adult Education Program (CAEP) and California Community Colleges (CCC) noncredit apportionment funding, providing this in addition to the base uniform funding per student that providers would receive. To keep the model cost neutral, the state could reduce base funding gradually over the phase‑in period, building up performance funding in tandem, the brief stated.

“As a starting point in creating this new performance‑based funding component, we recommend using the performance measures that California Department of Education already uses to allocate federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title II funds to providers,” analysts wrote. “To allocate performance funding, the state could set a dollar value to each performance point and adjust by cost‑of‑living adjustments (COLA) each year. The approach we recommend would give providers more funding stability from year to year.”

All adult schools — even those that do not participate in the WIOA Title II program — are already required to collect data on these performance measures. A performance measure for providers, such as the number of CTE certificates earned by adult education students, could be added to the current WIOA Title II measures.

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, according to the LAO.

Though some adult schools would lose fee revenue under this recommendation, creating a uniform base rate per student would fully cover providers’ expected program costs. The state could start with the existing CCC rate of $6,788 per student for noncredit courses.

“Providing a uniform base per‑student funding rate and funding providers based on attendance would better connect funding with student demand, incentivize and reward providing student access, and create more consistent program services across California,” the LAO stated. “A uniform base rate also would send clearer signals about the basic quality of programs that the state expects providers to offer.”