RICHMOND — Miguel Agil dropped out of Kennedy High School at 18, but he found his second chance in a welding class at Serra Adult School.
Maria Cabrera, an Oakland resident and mother of two, saw her job prospects rise from dishwasher to server after her English improved, thanks to literacy classes in Oakland's adult-education program.
"Now I have a big goal: to have a career," Cabrera said. "I want to be a nurse."
In their brief remarks at a Friday-morning legislative forum, Agil and Cabrera put human faces on adult education in California, a 150-year-old system that helps immigrants, refugees, school dropouts, parents, disabled and older adults, ex-convicts and struggling high school students find their way — in many cases, by helping them build literacy and other critical job skills.
The future of that system, however, is uncertain. This year, funding for adult education was slashed by more than 20 percent, resulting in fewer offerings, long waiting lists, fee hikes and some school closures.
Enrichment and exercise programs for older adults and for the disabled took the biggest hit as adult school directors scrambled to save classes that received federal funding.
Even more troubling to adult education advocates, California lawmakers have stripped the program of its protected source of state funding. Adult schools, which serve more than 1.5 million Californians each year, used to operate fairly independently from their respective school districts. But that changed last spring, when the Legislature allowed each school district to spend adult-education money on other programs.
Faced with millions of dollars in budget cuts, more and more districts are expected to exercise that option.
According to a poll taken by the California Council for Adult Education, which organized Friday's forum, 85 percent of school districts in the greater Bay Area reported they had used some adult education money this year to balance their budgets.
The Hayward school district used $3 million of the $6 million the adult school would have received from the state this year. The Oakland school district thus far has left its adult education fund alone; however, the district must cut $27 million from next year's overall budget.
"It's really an untenable position for school districts to be placed in," said Brigitte Marshall, director of Oakland's Adult and Career Education program. The Association of California School Administrators, however, did push for the change.
Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner and state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier attended the forum, as well as aides of other state politicians. Skinner and DeSaulnier said the presentation was eye-opening, but they didn't make any promises, noting the looming deficit and the supermajority required to raise tax revenues.
"You come to these meetings, and you're preaching to the choir," DeSaulnier said. "These kinds of meetings really need to happen in Riverside and San Diego."