Reflect, Regroup, Reorganize….PERSIST!

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On the heels of the Governor signing the FY 19-20 budget, I find myself heavily reflecting on this budget cycle and what we could have done differently to achieve our goal of securing additional funding for adult education.  While the budget was positive in providing COLA at 3.26 percent (~$17M) for adult education again this year, it fell short of providing additional overall funding for adult education despite a roughly $22 billion state surplus.  I can only imagine how frustrated you all must be – I am as well, hence deep reflection on the process, our engagement, and what more we could have done and should do in the next cycle.  In this regard, a few thoughts right off the top: 

  • The bulk of the state’s roughly $22 billion surplus was considered one-time funding that would not continue to materialize in upcoming budget years;

  • This was Governor Newsom’s first budget and opportunity to push forward his campaign priorities at the state level; and

  • As is the case every budget cycle, there are a multitude of interests vying for funding for existing and new programs. 

As we’ve discussed in various forums over the last eight months, I felt very positive going into this budget cycle – we’ve been steadily building rapport in the Legislature, with Department of Finance and other stakeholders through countless formal and informal meetings not only just this year but over the last few years.  Ultimately, despite the significant state surplus we were not able to overcome the fact that much of that surplus was deemed one-time funds, limiting the Administration and Legislature’s willingness to commit to ongoing funding.  Further, Governor Newsom had a number of priorities on his agenda coming into office – early childhood education and childcare; expansion of and coverage for healthcare for all; housing availability and affordability; higher education; and more.  These were where the new Governor focused his budget priorities with those stakeholders deeply engaged helping to push them forward.  And although we were able to make significant strides in illustrating the interrelatedness of these priorities with adult education, limited funding growth projections for the coming years remained and will continue to be a hurdle. 

Nevertheless, I remain the eternal optimist about the future of adult education.  Sure, we have a few lessons learned that we will incorporate into our efforts to regroup this fall, but we are stronger than ever in terms of legislative and Administration support for the work you all do in serving our students across the state.  

First lesson – the benefit of local grassroots support and action cannot be underestimated.  The Governor and Legislature are listening…..the adult education field and our students just need to be louder and more visible than ever.  In this regard, we are regrouping and reorganizing our local engagement and grassroots plan to be stronger and more effective than ever.  Stay tuned for further details on next steps, but in the meantime I recommend EVERYONE do two key things immediately…. 

1. Sign up for the Governor’s email distribution list at https://www.gavinnewsom.com/.  Now, I know…you’re a Republican or an Independent or you just aren’t his biggest fan….I get it – I really do!  That said, his campaign team that helped formulate his policy priorities and who continue to help shape his agenda regularly sends out calls for feedback from Californians in the form of surveys, requests for feedback, etc.  Use this outreach as your opportunity to tell his campaign team what is important to Californians – adult education and the students you serve! 

2. Sign up for your local Assemblymember’s and Senator’s email distribution list.   But Dawn, I don’t know who they are….  Well, that is the first problem.  Every single person in the adult education field and all of our students should know who their elected officials are at all times.  To find out whom they are, type in your home address at http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/.   The results will bring up your Senator and Assemblymember.  Click on their names to take you to their website and sign up for both members’ mailing lists.  These provide great updates on the activities in your district as well as provide information on upcoming coffee, sidewalk or district open house opportunities.  Everyone should make it a priority to attend at least two such events that are free to constituents and provide a great opportunity to build relationships with the member, their staff and ensure that adult education is on their radar in the district.  

Second lesson, CCAE, CAEAA and I need to do a better job of providing support to you all at the local level to ensure that we are engaging and having a stronger impact on legislators in their districts.  As part of our plan to be louder and more visible than ever, we are regrouping on our local engagement strategy and support model.  More detail to come soon… 

Third lesson, we need to better utilize our coalition partners and key legislative champions to help deliver our funding message and ask.  We have an army of willing supporters….we just need to better and more proactively utilize them… 

These are but a few lessons learned, but perhaps some of the more critical ones that need to be addressed and restructured in the short term as we ramp up our efforts this fall for the next budget cycle.  We also are working on upgrading and better employing our communication with the field.  Your active engagement is critical to our success and clearly we need to better communicate what would be most helpful at various junctures. 

All of this said, I can’t say for sure that the next budget cycle is a slam dunk.  Based on the latest projections, FY 2019-2020 will be a stable year; however, FY 2020-2021 is less certain and there are a number of signs the economy is on the verge of another downturn in out years.  This will inevitably present ongoing challenges with securing additional funding that would be a recurring commitment for the state.  This all layered on what is likely to be a contentious 2020 election cycle with California intent on setting itself apart from the current federal dynamics.  

We have our work cut out for us and yet we are growing politically stronger with each passing year.  It’s time to turn the heat up in an even more focused, strategic way.  We have all of the right talking points; we have all the right energy; we have the ears of those who matter; and we have a field and students who are desperate to support our efforts….now we just need to push forward….to not let this disappointing outcome define or depress us…..it’s time….to PERSIST!  Let’s do this…..2020 here we come!