After hundreds of teachers, parents and students poured into the meeting chambers of the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education meeting Wednesday night demanding the district prioritize students and learning, the Board voted to meet one of their demands: keeping adult education as part of a district service.
The Board’s vote to continue spending $1 million on adult education next year keeps the program bare bones but reverses a Board decision in March to end adult education. The Board took that March action because the state, which provides most of the funding for education in California, had said it was going to pull adult education funding from K-12 school districts and give it to community colleges instead. Recently the state education department reversed that decision and decided to maintain adult education funding to K-12 districts, making it easier for Oakland’s elected School Board members to make the same decision.
At Wednesday’s meeting, scores of people chanted “keep adult education” and held up signs. A young boy spoke at the podium to tell the board that adult education is needed because his mom deserves the opportunity to go to school. Some people wore graduation caps and gowns to illustrate that opportunity that the GED provides for some to graduate from high school.
Protesters who gathered before the meeting at the La Escuelita Education Center on 2nd Avenue, said they wanted to support not only adult education but fair wages for teachers. The Oakland Education Association, representing teachers, had just rejected a district contract offering a one-time bonus of 2.35 percent and ongoing yearly raises of 1.5 percent if certain funding thresholds from the state were met. Teachers said that after years of no raise at all, 1.5 percent seemed too little, too late, even with the one-time bonus.
“I am speaking to demand a fair contract for Oakland teachers, to demand a real wage increase for teachers, stop attacks on adult ed and the immigrate community in Oakland, stop packing the special education classes,” said Mike Airgood, a teacher. “This district now has more money coming in than it has in many years,” he said, referring to California Gov. Jerry Brown’s promise to fund education in the fall at much higher levels than the state has in the past. However, the state budget has yet to be passed by the legislature.
In Oakland, where many immigrants depend on adult education to learn English and keep up with their children’s classwork, and many others rely on it to finish their high school diplomas through the GED, adult education has been popular, with hundreds enrolled each year. The OUSD adult education has included family literacy classes for parents of elementary, middle and high school students, helping parents become engaged in school programs and follow their children’s academic success.
When the Board voted to disband adult education in March, it was seen as an affront to the immigrant community, some said.
Board President David Kakishiba said the board was always interested in preserving adult education in some fashion, especially the family literacy programs, but its hands were somewhat tied by the state.
Still, adult education used to receive upwards of $20 million in Oakland before it was scaled way back in 2009 in the wake of state budget cuts to education generally. Now, the $1 million allocated is about a quarter of one percent of the district’s $415 million budget.