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History of Adult Education in California

California Adult Education is 140 Years Old This year

Questions and Answers about Adult Education in California

Adult education in California is designed to meet the educational needs
of adults and is authorized by law under two documents; the California 
Education Code and the California Administrative Code, Title 5, Education.

Most adult school programs are maintained by unified or high school 
districts and fall under the jurisdiction of the school districts 
Board of Trustees. In the Grossmont Union High School District 
this body is known as the governing Board.

Adult courses of study are subject to the approval process established 
by the California State Department of Education.

The following curriculum/program areas are permitted:

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In an era of rapid technological, economic and social change, the mission of Adult Education in the California Public School System is to provide quality, life long educational opportunities and services, addressing the unique needs of individuals in a diverse population.

Adult Education Provides Opportunities To:

  1. Develop Competencies to Function Effectively in Community Life.
  2. Prepare for Employment
  3. Maximize Individual Potential

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In California, adult education began when the San Francisco Board of Education started an adult evening school in 1856 with an enrollment of approximately 300 students. During the years 1878–1887, other communities such as Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose, and Los Angeles followed suite and offered courses in basic subjects as grammar, bookkeeping, commercial arithmetic, and English language training. Adult education classes have been offered by the Grossmont Union High School District since 1946.

A united States Supreme Court decision in 1907 established adult education as a separate entity and provided for its first fiscal support.

Public recognition was given to adult education in the 1926 State plan for Adult Education, which formally defined the adult education concept as "organizing community resources for community betterment." The division of Adult Education was added to the California State Department of Education the following year (1927).

Throughout the "Depression Era" adult education played a prominent role in responding to the emergency at hand with appropriate programs and expertise, such as vocational training, literacy classes, parent and worker education, nursery schools, and general adult education courses.

During World War II adult schools were instrumental in providing both training programs and support services related to employment, civilian defense, medical care, food production, and preservation of natural resources, training for both flying and maintaining aircraft, mass communication, and vocational rehabilitation.

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As we moved into the 1960’s it was recognized that adult education programs were having a positive influence on addressing total family needs.
The goal was to increase the educational level of adults in order to alleviate poverty and unemployment. Research confirmed this approach and brought about education reform and legislation stated in the Elementary and Secondary School Act of 1965, and the Adult Basic Education Act of 1966.

Adult education’s strength lies in its flexibility to meet community needs by working with the many other agencies and groups in areas such as vocational education. Many of the program elements initiated by adult educators were incorporated into the Vocational Education Act (VEA) of 1962, the Work incentive Program (WIN), the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA), since replaced by the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) of 1982, and other vocational programs.

Senate bill 90, passed in 1973, allowed adult education programs to grow by providing increased funding. The bill was modeled in such a way that adult education moneys could also be used for general public schools. This also generated a tremendous growth in adult average attendance (ADA). By 1975 the "governors cap" (5% limit on growth of total enrollment) was placed on all adult education programs.

Senate Bill 1641, passed in 1976, established a separate revenue limit for adult education. In addition, it constituted that all funds generated by adult education must be used solely for adult education programs. Senate Bill 1641 also broadened the definition of an adult student to include older adults and handicapped students.

In 1978, a legislative bolt of lightning, struck public education in California, including adult education. Proposition 13 (Jarvis–Gann Initiative), became law on July 1, 1978, and changed the total scene of public education.

Due to the decrease in local property tax funds available and the decisions of local districts on how to dispense state surplus moneys through "Block Grants," many adult school programs were drastically reduced. After Proposition 13, many school Boards of Trustees declared the districts in a "State of Emergency" and no attention was paid to previous legislation Senate Bill 1641. The following school year, the Block Grant funds were expanded. Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 2196 (Greene) into law on September 30, 1980. Assembly Bill 2196 established a modified funding and programmatic structure for adult education.

After years of effort on the part of the adult education community, 1992 marked the passage of comprehensive reform legislation positively impacting adult education. Signed into law by Governor Pete Wilson on September 30, the three-package bill (AB 1321, AB 1891, AB1943) provided for a single adult education revenue limit, start up moneys for new adult programs and provisions for adult education innovation and alternative instructional delivery.

Adult Programs will continue to serve a diverse community - diverse in the range of ages, economic and educational backgrounds, and in varied ethnic compositions of its majority and minority student populations.

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  1. Adult education programs increase the effective use of school and community facilities.
  2. The cost to the state is less than 3% of the public school budget.
  3. Adult education is the only segment of tax supported education that receives state funds based solely on the number of students counted present at each class session.

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  1. Adult education in California serves approximately 2 million students in over 350 school districts.
  2. Classes are taught by credentialed teachers.
  3. Classes are located close to where people live.
  4. Classes are scheduled from early morning through evening.
  5. Many classes are offered on an open entry, open exit basis.
  6. Adult education is flexible in meeting the educational needs of the local communities.
  7. Programs are designed to accommodate pluralism in culture, ethnicity, background, age, and experience.
  8. Instruction tends to be learner - centered, rather than teacher - centered.

Retyped 6/2/96 
by John Potts 
Mt. Miguel Adult Center
Grossmont Adult School District


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We need to move swiftly to help ensure that our human resources…our California Citizens are brought into the 21st Century with the skills needed to be self–sufficient, self–reliant, self–confident and successfully competitive in a new increasingly sophisticated work environment.

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