LANSING --At ages 50 and 42, Michael and Jewell Prater aren't typical students.
The Erie couple is furthering their studies through adult education courses in Monroe to provide a better life for themselves and their 7-year-old daughter.
Michael Prater, a truck mechanic, is earning his General Educational Development, while his wife, who is unemployed, has already earned a GED and is taking courses toward a high school diploma. She has aspirations of enrolling at a community college to study to become a radiologist.
The Praters dropped out of high school in the tenth grade.
"Were banking on adult education to get higher-paying jobs,"Jewell Prater said. "I mean, who wants to go back to school at age 42?"
The opportunity to earn a diploma or GED is currently free for Michigan residents who are at least 20 years old and haven't graduated from high school. But these opportunities may be significantly reduced next year because adult education is facing a proposed 75 percent cut in funding.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm's budget recommends decreasing traditional adult education funding from $77.5 million to $20 million and eliminating the Partnership For Adult Learning program (PAL), which allocates $20 million a year for adult education.
PAL is an alternative adult education model in which students can get high school diplomas or GEDs with a work-related goal. PAL also offers English as Second Language courses and puts emphasis on computer-based learning.
Christopher Smith, of the SouthEast Michigan Community Alliance said elimination of PAL would abolish the possibility for students to learn in an alternative environment.
"A lot of people dropped out of high school because they didn't do well in a traditional classroom setting," he said. "What will be lost is an innovative model that was more responsive to individual needs."
Traditional adult education includes English as a Second Language programs; basic education to teach students with less than eighth-grade learning; and secondary education, which consists of a basic high school curriculum designed for students to earn high school diploma or a GED.
To earn a GED, students must pass five exams in reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies.
Dennis Rottenbucher, director of adult education at Orchard Center High School in Monroe, said, adult education and its programs and faculty may be in jeopardy with the decrease in funding.
"I'm hoping we continue to operate, but who knows, we have to see how the $20 million is allocated," he said. "I think the demand for adult education remains high. If and where they will be served remains to be seen."
The Orchard Center has been the primary source for adult education in Monroe since 1974. Four hundred students are enrolled throughout the district. The center cooperates with three other schools in Monroe County to serve another 100 adults Rottenbucher said.
He said 12 part-time teachers at Orchard Center work mostly with part-time students who must earn 20 credits for their high school diplomas or GEDs.
Patrick Shafer, executive director of the Michigan Association of Community and Adult Education, estimates that about 400 of 553 Michigan school districts have some type of adult education program. If the proposed cuts are approved by the Legislature, he projects that only 30 to 40 districts will keep their adult education programs.
In 2002, about 120,000 adults were served through adult education in Michigan, Shafer said. About 25 percent of them were English as a Second Language students, he said.
But Rep. Jack Hoogendyk, R- Kalamazoo, said only 75,988 adults were enrolled in educational programs that year.
Shafer added that in 2000 there were 35,938 students in basic education, 18 percent of whom were considered illiterate, and another 27,339 adults working toward their diplomas.
Hoogendyk, who questions the worth of the adult education program, cites a completion success rate of less than 35 percent as the main reason why program cuts are so dramatic.
Hoogendyk said that the cost for students enrolled in adult education in 1999-2000 was $1,822. The proposed cuts would bring that average down to $455, he said.
"I applaud Gov. Granholm for recognizing that this program is not as cost effective as it should be, but I believe the governor's proposal did not go far enough."
But there is a disparity between Hoogendyk's and Shafer's cost analyses.
Shafer said that school districts currently receive about $2,850 per student in state aid. Next year, if the proposed cuts remain, that number would drop to $880.
Shafer said although he understands the Granhom administration's focus on preserving K-12 funding, cutting adult education would damage her goal of preserving child education because some adult education directors' responsibilities include overseeing child care centers.
"I've had a number of school district officials who've called me with the concern that superintendents have told them to prepare pink slips not only for adult education workers, but child care personnel," he said. "Why would you cut programs that are tying in with of the administration's goals."
Justin King, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Boards, said his association is jubilant that Granholm was able to preserve the $6,700 average state aide per K-12 student, but is concerned about the future of adult education programs.
"From our standpoint, we're appreciative that the $6,700 grant was restored," he said. "We have great sensitivity to those who didn't complete their education in that time frame. But even with the monumental reductions, it still leaves Michigan in the top one-quarter for state appropriations for adult education in the United States."
King said district school boards have the discretion to allocate some of their K-12 funding into adult education programs.
Jewell Prater said she hopes for her family's sake that adult education programs are not cut.
"A lot of people's dreams and goals will be shattered if these programs are gone," she said.
© 2003, Capital News Service, Michigan State University
School of Journalism
© 2003, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism