Defending Adult Education in Los Angeles
Date: March 5, 2012
By Matthew Kogan, Chair, Adult Education United Teachers Los Angeles
In response to projected budget deficit for 2012-13 in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), Superintendent John Deasy proposed a fiscal stabilization plan that would eliminate its adult education program serving 350,000 students.
It appeared that a majority of the LAUSD school board supported the elimination of these programs also. With the initial school board vote on elimination only a month away, the Adult Education Committee of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) sprung into action to defend our programs for the communities we serve. We knew that unified action would have the greatest impact, so we developed a plan based on our strengths and assets.
Our greatest asset is first and foremost the students of the communities we serve. Los Angeles is one of the largest undereducated and underemployed metropolitan areas in the United States with a large immigrant community. These communities depend on the language acquisition, basic skills, GED, high school diploma and job training programs help them better their lives.
A second asset was the strong motivation of our students and teachers to save their schools and instructional programs. Clearly the benefits of educating and training adults for better jobs during this recession gave us an argument around which to lobby and organize. Finally, we lobbied for support of state and city elected officials who represent these same communities. We figured they would be motivated to keep their constituents happy and continue the benefits of adult education in order to help improve our economy.
The thought of totally eliminating the adult education program in Los Angeles (which has been around for over 100 years), obviously sent some folks into panic mode. However, we felt that having a focused, organized, thoughtful plan and speaking with one unified voice would send a more powerful message. So we developed a plan that we would roll out in stages. We know we are in for a long battle, so we needed to have actions planned for every part of the fight. We needed absolute clarity about the plan—and we needed every location doing their part of the plan. All our actions take advantage of the size and depth of feeling of the community we serve. The goal was to demonstrate the widespread support from every corner of our community in order to put pressure on the school board, who after all, was elected by these same communities. We looked for actions that would illustrate these two factors in various ways.
Stage One: Early Strategies
The “Adult Ed is Essential” petition was a good way of getting all teachers, students and stakeholders involved quickly. We knew from experience that it was a good ﬁt for adult education, because, unlike K-12 students, our students can both sign and collect signatures. It was a huge success. In only two weeks time, we were able to collect over 220,000 signatures in support of adult education!
We had over 4,000 blue store signs printed, which said in large letters, “We Support Adult Education”. Underneath in smaller letters was our message: “Adult education means better jobs” and “Helping parents helps children”. We asked students and teachers to go around their communities and ask store owners to display the signs in their store windows as another illustration of community support.
Lobbying: Letters and Phone Calls
Letters to school board members were written early on and we wanted to move in another direction. We knew that some school board members were digging in their heels despite the letters. We decided to organize a lobbying campaign towards state senators and assembly members. Although they do not have a vote on our school board, they do have inﬂuence via state funding of school districts and through party politics.
In addition, their support increases the credibility of our campaign. Each adult school’s local area was assigned an elected official to write. A phone system was set up whereby stakeholders could call one number citywide. Callers could choose English or Spanish and after a prompt, the system would route the caller to the appropriate elected official for their school. We also held follow up meetings with adult education students and staff members of these elected officials. We now have the support of many state officials and city council members.
As part of speaking with a unified voice, we knew we needed to craft a strong persuasive message that advocates could use when speaking to community members, politicians or the media. We wanted to stay away from jargon or school district statistics. We based our message on what adult education means to them and what it will mean if it is eliminated.
Our message is framed in three parts:
- We need more job training not less. Adult education means better jobs through education.
- Educating parents helps children. The most important factor to a child’s success in school is the educational level of his parents (particularly the mother).
- It is unfair that the community should lose its entire adult education program. Adult education is only 2% of the district’s budget, yet they are proposing a 100% cut.
Working with Stakeholders
All these activities were done in conjunction with a city-wide student group, United Adult Students. The UTLA Adult Education Committee helped found this group about ﬁve years ago with the belief that adult education would not be safe without the organized support of its students. They are the community and therefore have more power to effect change than teachers.
Stage Two: Rallies
We continued lobbying by assigning each adult school’s local area different elected officials to write and call. We also held demonstrations at many of our school sites, which were organized by the students and teachers, culminating with a large demonstration the LAUSD headquarters. This created a media event where students and teachers were interviewed.
Stage Three: Speaking at the School Board
Adult education students spoke at the school board meeting where the vote on the Superintendent’s budget to eliminate adult education would be held. We also delivered our petition to save adult education with over 220,000 signatures. We were happy to see a number of local elected officials speak on behalf of adult education—city council members, local city mayors, two former school board members. The school board, instead of voting to eliminate adult education, postponed their decision and directed the Superintendent to come back in a month with options to avoid eliminating these programs.
Stage Four: Resolutions at Neighborhood Councils
Los Angeles has a system of neighborhood councils throughout the city that are designed to be more responsive to local communities’ needs. We are working to get resolutions in support of adult education passed at many of these neighborhood councils. We feel that speaking at these neighborhood groups is a good way to connect with the greater community, illustrate community support, and show the school board and elected officials that we are an energetic and resolute group.
We have put a good plan into action that has demonstrated success; however, we don’t know what the end of the story will be. We do know that we are making a difference, and if adult education is to survive in Los Angeles, it is up to teachers, students and the community to continue to organize and keep up the pressure. The school board must see that adult education is essential to the economic health and progress of our community. In addition, they must understand that the supporters of adult education are a large, growing and organized group who will persevere until the problem is fixed and adult education is secure.
Matthew Kogan, Chair, Adult Education United Teachers Los Angeles
Their committee is organizing teachers and adult education students to make clear to the school board how adult education is essential to the community and the strength of community support for adult education.
Matthew is a guest blogger in the discussion series “Cut the Excuses, Not Education! How SaveAdultEd.org Is Fighting the Proposal to Eliminate Adult Education in L.A.” See the full discussion schedule online. Participate by posting your comments and questions in the box below and signing SaveAdultEd.org’s petition. (Photo by Robert D. Skeels)
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