Economy Strains Adult Education Programs

GED Programs asked to shoulder bigger share of budget cuts

Federal stimulus dollars promise to ease the pain of state budget cuts for public schools. But not all programs are breathing easier.

Under a legislative spending plan endorsed last month, adult education programs would shoulder a disproportionate share of the cuts. Lawmakers have proposed trimming 30 percent, or $3 million, from a $10.2 million pool supporting adult literacy, English as a second language, and high school equivalency diploma programs, such as the General Educational Development (GED) program.

That’s a far cry from the 18 percent predicted earlier for schools. Schools now stand to lose only 6 percent thanks to the stimulus money, which districts hope to also use to backfill cuts to adult education.

Whether they’ll have that discretion, though, is unknown. The stimulus money has strings attached, said state associate school superintendent Todd Hauber. "The Legislature and governor have agreed on the level of cuts, but haven’t gotten into the nitty gritty."

Lawmakers are expected to revise their spending plan as early as today or tomorrow, and district officials are hoping for some reprieve for GED programs, which report surging enrollment.

"People are losing their jobs and returning in droves to update their skills," said Jim Anderson, adult education coordinator for Salt Lake City District.

Salt Lake has 3,312 adults enrolled, up 28 percent from this same time last year, said Anderson. "That’s pretty significant. There’s something going on in there."

His district could lose a half-million dollars, forcing him to lay off teachers, reduce course offerings or start a waiting list.

Claudia Thorum, Granite District’s adult education coordinator, is weighing the closure of two of the district’s five programs.

GEDs, commonly viewed as "second chance" programs, can be controversial. Diploma programs offered at Utah prisons also anticipate cuts, and one lawmaker has proposed requiring convicts to reimburse the state for any postsecondary education they receive while in prison.

At a budget hearing, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, questioned the fairness of taxpayers subsidizing diplomas for adults who already had a chance at a free education.

But Thorum said many of her students grew up in poverty or circumstances that put them at risk of dropping out.

"They didn’t really have a good chance in the first place," she said. "Besides, it costs much less to educate people than it does to support them on public assistance. We all benefit from an educated public."

 

Source-  The Salt Lake Tribune

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