It’s time to invest in adult students so more DC families thrive

It’s time to invest in adult student so more DC families thrive.

By Nicole Hanrahan

DC has nine publicly funded adult charter schools, which collectively serve more than 4,000 students. Our students typically want to advance their education and develop critical career skills. Adult learners make up 8.5 percent of DC’s public charter school students. They come from all across the city, and from all different backgrounds. Circumstances may have created major barriers to education: many adult students have experienced homelessness, poverty, incarceration, and or significant trauma that led to a premature departure from school. But our students are resilient.

At Career Academy, we provide 16-24 year olds access to college preparation and college credit classes, and career training in high growth industries. Though overall school enrollment fell in DC in SY21-22, enrollment in adult education schools grew by 8%, demonstrating strong demand. This increase in enrollment has been matched by an increase in student needs making it even more critical that we get more funding from DC to support our students. 

Throughout the pandemic, adult learners have navigated economic pressure exacerbated by lost jobs, virtual and hybrid school, and taking care of their children with little external support. Our staff and teachers responded to these needs, by delivering meals, creating study hall spaces for students who needed a quiet space to work, coming back to in-person instruction before many K-12 schools got there, and more.

It is evident that investing in adult learners is investing in our cities’ future. Our students can help address the workforce shortage, increase outcomes for children and decrease reliance on public systems. We educate people to get and retain better jobs that help support their families and benefit the entire DC community. The effects of increasing adult literacy alone are significant and long lasting. Just 100 hours of instruction leads to a $10,000 increase in income 10 years later.  

But to get these benefits, we must invest in adult learners. We know that students need smaller classrooms with specialized instruction. They need access to mental health support. And they need wraparound services to make sure that they come to school ready to learn. Additional teachers, counselors, and social workers on staff will give our students a real opportunity to thrive. And we have the strategy to provide all of this, but not the resources. 

Adult education is the only sector other than alternative schools  that is funded below the base level recommended in the 2013 adequacy study. Schools such as ours are largely ineligible for add-on weights for students designated at-risk, English Language Learner, or special needs, and we received one-eighth the amount of critical ESSER funding compared to  other public schools.. 

We support the DC Council’s recommendation to fund adult schools in line with UPSFF recommendation in the adequacy study for the FY23 budget.

If we want more DC families thriving, it makes sense to invest in the students who are coming back to school to do just that.

Nicole Hanrahan is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of LAYC Career Academy, an adult public charter school in Ward 1.

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