Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Guest Blog: Mayor’s Budget Shortchanges Under-Educated DC Adults … and Their Kids

Note from the editor: This post was written by Kathryn Baer posted originally on her blog, Poverty and Policy.  She is a policy research and communications consultant. She blogs to educate her readers on policies in order to reduce hardships of people suffering from poverty. Her blog is great one to follow! 

     “We have jobs and we have people,” says DC Appleseed’s Deputy Director. “But the education people have doesn’t fit the jobs available.” The real problem, however, as she goes on to suggest, is the education that many people don’t have.
     This isn’t a rerun of the oft-debunked skills gap myth — at least so far as the District of Columbia is concerned. The extraordinarily high high unemployment rates in the poorer parts of the city apparently reflect a lack of minimal education credentials — and skills they’re supposed to indicate.
About 60,000 residents 18 years and older lack a high school diploma or the equivalent. An even larger number “likely lack the basic … skills needed to succeed in training, postsecondary education and the workforce,” according to a new DC Appleseed report.
    Of the deplorably few adults in programs supported by funds the Office of the State Superintendent of Education administers, more than half who weren’t learning English as a second language have consistently tested below 6th grade level.
   This means they’re ineligible for any of the programs the Department of Employment Services makes available through an Individual Training Account and also for most of the programs offered by our local community college.
   Even residents who test higher often fail the GED exams. Their pass rate in 2012 was 55.2% — the third lowest in the country. And the exams got tougher this year.
   Yet more than three-quarters of all jobs in the District will require some postsecondary education by 2020, according to the latest projectionsby experts at Georgetown University.
In short, as things stand now, we’re looking at a very large number of working-age residents whose chances of full-time, living-wage jobs are dismal.
   And as if that weren’t enough, we’ve research indicating links between parents’ education (or lack of same) and their children’s success in school. On the downside, children whose parents are functionally illiterate are twice as likely to be illiterate themselves.
   This isn’t only because poverty rates are highest among adults without a high school diploma or GED — well over 33% in the District for those 25 and older. But all the daily impacts of poverty, e.g., hunger, homelessness, stress, obviously play a part.
   Plowing more money into the rest of the education system, as the Mayor proposes, won’t deliver the hoped-for bang for the buck if the basic education needs of parents are neglected, as DC Learns warnedseveral years ago.
   DC Appleseed’s report identifies a range of problems in the District’s approach to adult education — including, but not limited to inadequate funding.
   It outlines steps toward a long-range solution — essentially, an integrated system that connects basic skills development to career pathways. The DC Council could lay the groundwork with the initial $2.5 million the report recommends.
   But the Council should also increase funding for the adult education programs we have now — both to serve more residents and to support better results.
   I wish I could tell you what the Mayor’s budget proposes. But it’s characteristically opaque — partly, but not entirely because of the fragmentation DC Appleseed documents.
This much I’ve been able to parse.
   The handful of charter schools that provide adult education would getmore per pupil, as would the two regular public schools that do.
  They’d still get less per pupil than what schools would get for any other type of student. And the new extra weight that’s supposed to boost funds for schools with students who’ve been designated “at risk” won’t apply, though some of the adults surely meet the same criteria, e.g., eligibility for SNAP (food stamp) benefits.
   OSSE would get less for the adult education grants it provides. Theproposed budget indicates a cut of about $3.8 million. This apparently reflects the fact that the Department of Employment Services won’t be transferring funds, as it did this fiscal year.
   The Fair Budget Coalition had recommended that the baseline budgetfor adult education, i.e., the estimated costs of preserving current services, include these funds — a $5.5 million addition, according to FBC.
   Hard to believe that the Mayor and his people couldn’t have found the money. They’ve instead put $3 million for adult literacy on the list of items to be funded if revenues prove higher than projected.
Let’s just say this is a mere gesture, since it would take $59.8 million to fund the priorities ranked higher. Setting this pie-in-the-sky aside, the total requested for all the programs that, in one way or the other, address the adult basic skills deficit might serve more residents than in Fiscal 2013.
But they then served at most about 8,000, according to DC Appleseed. That’s a far cry from meeting the need.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Advocacy Celebration Empowers Students at The Hope

    Informing, motivating, and advocating.These three verbs were used very widely last week at The Hope.
    Education at The Academy of Hope is broader than a passing grade or even the GED certificate.  It is the power to make a difference in all facets of life including in the community, and at the polls. With the mayoral election in full swing, The Hope staff wanted to put on an event in order to empower students to learn about the issues that affect their lives and the DC neighborhoods in which they live and work.  
    There is an overwhelming sense of economic and structural inequality for DC residents. Learning about the issues behind these feelings is empowering for students.
    “It’s a validation of discomfort that they feel, and there are real issues behind those emotions that their peers feel too,” Meghan, a social studies instructor and organizer of the event explained. “You’re saying ‘you’re right’. And that’s powerful. We're showing that there is a way for people to be engaged and to change the conditions they’re in.”
         Students proudly pose stating what issue
         the care about the most 
    Last Tuesday, students crowded classrooms participating in activities focusing on DC geography and demographics, DC vs. federal government, mayoral candidate topics, government budget, gentrification, and voting disenfranchisement. At the final station, students proudly posed for a photo while standing up for the topic that mattered most to them and voted in a mayoral election straw poll. Mauriel Bauser won The Hope’s election.
    Students gained mayoral candidate trading cards for each station, and classes competed with others for involvement. Student’s even presented mayoral informational posters at one station, and led the discussion.
    “They just did such a good job. They were the ones presenting and teaching,” Brittany, lead instructor said. “That’s one of the goals of Academy of Hope.”
Mayor Gray check out a station where
students matched up the different branches 
of the government
    The original idea sprouted from the Social Studies curriculum. Starting in January, students started learning about the three branches of government, the Senate, House and Congress work to pass laws. As the mayoral election campaigning ramped up in March, the idea to educate all of The Hope community about the topics involved with this election became the main focus.
    “We wanted  to have students  motivated to vote and to be informed about issues and candidates,” Meghan said. “My dream was exactly what happened. All the students were getting involved in something that was really fun and interesting to them. The work that we did together planning all the rooms turned out great.”
    The teachers noticed as they started teaching the political curriculum, there was a  lack of connection between big-sector issues and their own lives.This event aimed at connecting the political system and personal lives of students.
Director Lecsester greets Mayor Gray
    “I think our objective was giving people information about how to get out the vote. Showing why it’s important to get informed, so even if no one went out and voted about this I’d be fine, as long as they were informed. Even that is a decision.” Meghan said.
    The students saw truly how much their voice can be heard because the current Mayor (as of last week), Vincent Gray made a special appearance. He, and his camera crew, walked to all the stations, socializing with The Hope students and staff. One comedic moment was when he checked out a poster that was made about his political platform by a social studies class student. He stared at it very seriously before walking to the next classroom. 
    After his visit full of shaking hands, posing for pictures and learning about The Hope’s curriculum and Advocacy Celebration, he entered his vote into the straw poll. He voted for himself.
    For next year, Meghan wants to add a station where students can learn about all the positive changes that are being made because of citizens staying informed and standing up for issues that affect them.
    “People feel tension and a lack of power in the system, this event helps gives them a voice. There is progress, it’s just buried behind all the bad news.”