Just four years ago, Oakland public schools taught English as a second language to 14,000 adults. The students’ native tongues included Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic and more than 40 other languages. Then, the school district eliminated the program.
Today, because of budget cuts at the state capitol and the district headquarters, Oakland has reduced its adult classes to 320 parents who need to improve their English so they can help their children in school.
It is a familiar story in California, home to a quarter of the country’s population of adults with limited or no English skills. School districts are drastically scaling back adult education, especially English classes, all over the state.
“Districts are so desperate for funds just to take care of their basic mission that they’ve had to make these horrible decisions,” says Christian Nelson, the head of adult and career education at the Oakland school district and president of the California Council for Adult Education. He says 70 percent of the state money that once supported adult education has been redirected to fund instruction for children.
States’ ability to provide adult English classes could be a problem in negotiations over a federal immigration overhaul, because any reform plan almost certainly would require immigrants to know or learn English.