Turf Battle Flares in Fla. Over Control Of Adult Education

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Bills pending in the Florida legislature that would essentially transfer control of adult education from school districts to community colleges are being described as a power grab by district officials and a much-needed reform by the bill's proponents.

The legislation is aimed at unifying the state's programs for educating adults for the workforce. The programs are currently administered as a "dual delivery" system, with some vocational and basic education classes handled by community colleges and others by school districts.

The turf battle is far more than a philosophical fistfight. Millions of dollars in state funding are at stake. Florida's community colleges alone are now spending about $235 million annually to provide secondary-level instruction to approximately 160,000 adults. School districts serve an additional 750,000 adult learners, state education officials said.

Under the proposed legislation, each local community college board and the district school board would have to reach an agreement on how to offer such programs, using one of a number of options spelled out in the bills.

Alternatives would include having district-run technical education centers converted to community college branch campuses. Or the centers could operate under a board of directors through a charter sponsored by the community college's board of trustees. School districts could continue to provide workforce-development programs if the state's department of education certified that by the end of the 2000-01 school year the district had no schools receiving D's or F's under Florida's accountability system.

Agreements would have to be reached by 2001 or all workforce education funding for adult education would go to the state's workforce-development board, which could then distribute the money to providers as it saw fit.

Plan Tried Elsewhere

Some Florida school districts, including Palm Beach County, as well as such states as Wyoming, have handed control of adult education over to community colleges. In Washington state, after a 1990 study showed that responsibility for adult education was too dispersed, the legislature placed adult education under the purview of community and technical colleges.

Joe Mathos, the deputy superintendent for education in the Miami-Dade County schools, said lawmakers in the state capital should not make decisions about local programs.

"One size does not fit all for the people of Florida," said Mr. Mathos, the former director of the district's vocational and technical education program. "Some legislators would like to put everything in a nice little neat box."

But David Armstrong Jr., the executive director of the Florida Community College System, calls the current approach a "mixed-up and confused delivery system." With a majority of students entering community college in need of remedial work, he said, the public school system should be singularly focused on raising achievement of its K-12 students.

Allowing community colleges to oversee the vocational and technical training of adults, he added, would be more beneficial to students because most of those who complete programs at vocational-technical centers receive an occupational certificate, while many community college students can also earn an associate of science degree.

Stephen R. Wise

Rep. Stephen R. Wise, a former vice president of Florida Community College in Jacksonville, sponsored the House bill that would change the control of the adult education system. He argues that school officials and opponents have misinformed students and employees in the program about the proposed changes.

"I have listened to all of their arguments, and they are spurious. They don't make any sense to me," said Mr. Wise, a Republican. "I am not saying the schools are doing a bad job. It has everything to do with the mission of K-12 schools. I believe the mission of the school districts is with K-12 students, and the mission of community colleges is workforce development."

Persuading the legislature to enact the changes will not be an easy fight, he said, because opponents have effectively used scare tactics. "It is a contentious issue because the truth doesn't count in this game," Mr. Wise maintained.

David Armstrong Jr.

Slight differences in the Senate and House versions of the bills must be reconciled before the full legislature votes on a final measure.

Victoria Hernandez, the director of government affairs for the 145,000-student Miami-Dade Community College, says opponents from the school districts are resistant to the proposed changes because they fear losing a powerful program.

"The fact of the matter is [adult education] programs have been cash cows for the school districts," Ms. Hernandez said. "Why do you need two public entities, two bureaucracies administering the same type of program?"

Vol. 19, Issue 35, Pages 22, 26

Published in Print: May 10, 2000, as Turf Battle Flares in Fla. Over Control Of Adult Education
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