The Struggle to Save Adult Education in Los Angeles

Using State of California budget shortfalls 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 effectively cut some of the most crucial programs in the District. With enthusiastic collaboration from LAUSD BOE President Monica Garcia, Deasy’s chopping block included the District’s Student Readiness Language Development Program (SRLDP), Early Education Programs, District-wide Elementary School Arts Programs, and the entire Division of Adult and Career Education (DACE). Deasy, a former executive of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a graduate of the [Eli] Broad Superintendent Academy, was brought into LAUSD to implement a stark program of neoliberalism. The Superintendent’s proposed cuts are intended to hasten the privatization of the school district, much like his fellow Broad Academy Graduates (or Broadytes), Deborah Gist, Michelle Rhee, and Jean-Claude Brizard have in other cities.

Superintendent Deasy and the like-minded neoliberal BOE members — Monica Garcia, Tamar Galatsan, Dr. Richard Vladovic, and Nury Martinez — didn’t expect much resistance to their cuts, and had planned to vote on their education massacre on Valentines’s Day. Fortunately political pressure emanating 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 BOE, some of them quite reluctantly, voted yes on Zimmer’s motion, temporarily saving not only adult education, but the other programs slated for elimination.

Within days of learning that the District intended to cut the entire program, students and teachers began organizing a coordinated response that was unprecedented in its scale and scope. Since the DACE program serves some 347,000 students, there was a sizable pool of individuals willing to get involved and save their schools. One of the first actions was a citywide petition drive. Students, activists, and teachers worked frantically to collect signatures supporting DACE. By Valentines’s Day Adult Education was able to provide the BOE with petitions containing 220,000 signatures of support. Reaching out to the business community, as a sector which benefits greatly from an educated workforce, activists were able to get large numbers of business to display signs stating their support. These were photographed and sent as evidence of broader community support.

Websites were set up for both the student organization — United Adult Students (UAS), but also a general website for the campaign. Activists set up a phone system that allowed callers to dial in and just by entering a code for their school, would connect them to the appropriate BOE member to make their feelings known. As the campaign progressed, phone calls started being routed to other public officials. In addition, letter writing campaigns were launched. In many cases local politicians were asked to write the BOE expressing their support for DACE.

Activities weren’t limited to lobbying style, however. Large rallys and pickets held at individual schoolsites brought excellent media coverage, particularly in the Korean and Spanish media, and more public exposure in general. Since large numbers of Korean and Spanish speakers are enrolled in DACE English Language Learner programs, the media coverage mobilized large numbers of community members who otherwise might not have known that Garcia and Deasy had Adult Education on the chopping block. The individual rallys culminated in a large 3,500 person protest at LAUSD headquarters on the Thursday before the BOE vote.

Adult Education supporters again showed up on Valentines’s Day to join supporters of the other threatened programs, closing down Beaudry Avenue. While thousands thronged the streets with banners and signs condemning the cuts, the LAUSD Board Room was packed with DACE supporters and speakers. All of the outreach to local politicians paid off. Among the speakers supporting Adult Education were Los Angeles City Council Members, representatives from 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 was by social justice educator José Lara, who finished his presentation with a scathing indictment of the cuts by saying “ladies and gentlemen, this is an educational injustice.”

The campaign has also received national attention, with the Washington D.C. based National Coalition for Literacy publishing a series of articles from students, educators, and activists on the ground, each highlighting various aspects of the struggle. The series, entitled, Cut the Excuses, not education, is an excellent resource both in terms of the documenting the struggle, but also providing ideas for other struggles.

Despite the massive outpouring of community support and widespread political support, the BOE Members supporting the neoliberal agenda of the Coalition for School Reform — a right-wing organization funded by the likes of Philip Anschutz, Eli Broad, Jerry Perenchio, and others — are intractable, as evidenced by Tamar Galatsan’s March 10, 2012 Op-Ed in the Daily News, where she insisted that there’s no money and the cuts have to be made. This simply isn’t true, as there are literally hundreds of millions of dollars that could be cut in other areas:

… 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, 2013, the Superintendent presented a budget that still zeroed out many programs including DACE, but explained that the District would revise the budget based on two conditions: first that the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) take yet another pay cut (most likely in the form of furlough days), and second, that the state somehow is able to bolster the District’s budget. The BOE voted six to one in favor of the demoralizing budget. While many see this as a hardball negotiating tactic against the union, the effect on student morale has been severe.

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

Robert D. Skeels is a social justice writer, public education advocate, and immigrant rights activist. He lives, works, writes, and organizes in Los Angeles with his wife and cats. Robert is a U.S. Navy Veteran, and a proud member of Veterans for Peace. He attended Glendale Community College and is currently attending the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), majoring in Classical Civilization. Robert is a committed member of CEJ, PESJA, SCIC, and the Trinational Coalition To Defend Public Education. In addition to advancing working class struggles, Robert is an adherent of Liberation Theology. He devotes much time towards volunteer work for 12 step, church, and homeless advocacy. Robert’s articles and essays have appeared in publications including Schools Matter, CounterPunch, Dissident Voice, Daily Censored, Echo Park Patch, and The Los Angeles Daily News. In 2013 Robert ran for the LAUSD School Board against a billionaire funded corporate reform candidate, finishing second in a field of five, with over 5,200 votes. Read other articles by Robert, or visit Robert's website.