LA battle for adult education

Robert D. Skeels reports on a crucial battle against education cuts in Los Angeles.

Activists rally in support of adult education on February 14 (Robert D. Skeels | SW)Activists rally in support of adult education on February 14 (Robert D. Skeels | SW)

USING THE state of California's budget shortfall as an excuse, Los Angeles Unified School District's (LAUSD) Superintendent John Deasy presented the LAUSD Board of Education (BOE) with a draconian budget that guts some of the most important programs in the district.

With the enthusiastic collaboration of Board President Monica Garcia, Deasy proposed to slash the district's Student Readiness Language Development Program (SRLDP), Early Childhood Education programs, district-wide Elementary Arts Programs and the entire Division of Adult and Career Education (DACE).

Deasy, a former executive with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy, was brought into LAUSD to implement a stark program of corporate school reform. Deasy's proposed cuts are intended to hasten the privatization of the school district, much like his fellow Broad Academy graduates--known to many as Broadytes--Jean-Claude Brizard of Chicago and Deborah Gist of Rhode Island have in other cities and states.

Deasy and likeminded neoliberal board members--Mónica Garcia, Tamar Galatzan, Dr. Richard Vladovic and Nury Martinez--didn't expect much resistance to their cuts, and had planned to vote on their education massacre on Valentine's Day in February.

Fortunately, political pressure from a broad and dynamic movement spearheaded by adult education students, allowed BOE member Steve Zimmer to move not only to delay the vote, but to instruct the superintendent to provide a budget with different options. The board, some of them reluctantly, voted yes on Zimmer's motion, temporarily saving not only adult education, but the other programs slated for elimination.

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THE FIGHT for adult education had started weeks earlier after students and teachers learned of the plan to cut the entire program and began organizing a coordinated response. The DACE program serves some 347,000 students, so there was a sizable pool of individuals willing to get involved to save their schools.

One of the first actions was a citywide petition drive. Students, activists and teachers worked hard to collect signatures, and by Valentine's Day, they were able to deliver petitions containing 220,000 signatures to the board.

Activists were able to get large numbers of business to display signs stating their support for continuing education. These were photographed and sent to the board as evidence of broader community backing.

Supporters created websites for both the student organization United Adult Students and a general campaign website called Save Adult Ed, and they set up a phone system that allowed callers to dial in and, by entering a code for their school, get connected to the appropriate BOE member to make their feelings known.

Meanwhile, rallies and pickets held at individual school sites brought excellent media coverage, particularly in the Korean and Spanish language press, and more public exposure. Since large numbers of Korean and Spanish speakers are enrolled in DACE English Language Learner programs, the media coverage mobilized community members who otherwise might not have known that Garcia and Deasy had Adult Education on the chopping block.

The school rallies culminated in a 3,500-strong protest at LAUSD headquarters on the Thursday before the board vote in February.

Adult education supporters again showed up for the Valentine's Day meeting date to join supporters of the other threatened programs. While thousands of people thronged the streets with banners and signs condemning the cuts, the room where the LAUSD board met was packed with DACE supporters and speakers.

Outreach to local political leaders paid off--among the speakers supporting adult education were Los Angeles City Council members, other local politicians and the mayor of the City of Huntington Park. Other speakers included graduates of DACE, currently enrolled students and educators. One of the most moving speeches came from social justice educator José Lara, who finished his presentation with a scathing indictment of the cuts, saying "Ladies and gentlemen, this is an educational injustice."

The campaign in LA has received national attention, with the Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition for Literacy publishing a series of articles from students, educators and activists, each highlighting different aspects of the struggle. The series, titled "Cut the Excuses, Not Education," is an excellent resource, both in terms of documenting the fight, but also providing ideas for other struggles.

Despite the outpouring of community support, the board members supporting the corporate reform agenda are pressing ahead--as evidenced by Tamar Galatzan's March 8 op-ed article in the Los Angeles Daily News, in which she insists there's no money and the LAUSD has no choice but to make the cuts.

This simply isn't true, as an article at the National Coalition for Literacy website makes clear:

More sickening is that LAUSD actually has money as evidenced by massive spending on useless assessments and consultants, highly discredited value added methodologies, and nine-figure real estate giveaways to lucrative charter corporations.

On March 13, Deasy presented a budget that still zeroed out many programs, including DACE, but he claimed that the district would revise the budget based on two conditions: first, that United Teachers Los Angeles take yet another pay cut, most likely in the form of furlough days, and second, that the state bolsters the district's budget. The board voted 6-1 in favor of this horrible budget.

While many see this as a hardball negotiating tactic against the teachers' union, the effect on student morale has been severe.

Fortunately, neither students nor the educators who serve them are considering giving up the fight. Preparations for future actions are underway, and the continual outreach hasn't stopped. There's a great deal of work to do, but the stakes are too high for the community to give up.