Thursday, January 30, 2014

Democracy in Sacramento and San Mateo Adult School

Three San Mateo Adult School students went to the Oversight Hearing on Adult Education in Sacramento on January 29th to share student wisdom about why adult education matters.

Marina, Hitomi, and Marco speaking at the hearing.
Click here to read what Hitomi said.

Click here to read what Marco said.

Click here to read what Marina said.

Click here to watch a video of the hearing.

Some legislators (the people who make the laws) in the Senate Education and the Assembly Higher Education committees wanted more information about Adult Education.  They wanted to really understand the whole complicated story before they make new laws or change old ones. 

So Senator Carol Liu arranged for an Oversight Hearing to give the legislators more information.

Oversight means look over something and see the big picture, understand the history, the present, and the possible future.

A hearing is special meeting when people - usually official people - hear other people.  They listen to people.  Courts have hearings - you get a chance to say if you are guilty or innocent.  Governments have hearings - you get a chance to say your story.

Anyone can go to any hearing in the state capitol and listen to the hearing and then make a comment at the end.  Making a comment can depend on time.  If many people want to make a comment, maybe not everyone can or they must make their comment short.  But the idea is everyone has a chance to speak.  Their voice matters.

Sunlight shining into the capitol.
This is part of democracy:  the demos - the people - can and must watch over their representatives and give their representatives advice and opinions and requests.  Democracy means rule by the people - the demos - the people -  are the rulers - cracy.  For democracy to work, people must be involved.  They must speak.  And they must listen.

They can do this many ways - at hearings, by visits to legislative offices, with letters, calls, and emails.  The important thing is that they stay in communication with their elected representatives.

Marco, Marina, Lisa, & Cynthia
on their way to the hearing.

The hearing is inside the capitol.  It is a big beautiful building that has a fancy and serious feeling.

The Governor and the Legislature have their offices and meetings in the capitol building.  This is where they make decisions about the state of California.  Anyone can visit the capitol.  Anyone can visit the offices of the legislators.  Anyone can watch them when they vote on laws. 

Lisa, Hitomi, Marina, Marco, Cynthia
So on Wednesday, January 29th, 2014, this is what Hitomi, Marco, Marina, Cynthia and Lisa did.  They went to the capitol.  They went to a hearing.

Hitomi, Marco, and Marina are ESL students at San Mateo Adult School.  Hitomi was ESL Morning Student Council President last year in 2012-13.  Marco is ESL Morning Student Council President this year 2013-14.  Marina is ESL Student Advocate. 

Cynthia and Lisa are teachers at San Mateo Adult School.  Lisa teaches ESL and organizes EL Civics.  She is the advisor for the Morning ESL Student Council.  Cynthia teaches ESL Distance Learning and runs the SMAS Facebook page and this blog and the Adult Education Matters blog.

Every hearing has an agenda - a plan.  Click here to see the agenda for the Oversight Hearing on Adult Education.  The agenda was:

Marina, Marco, Cynthia, Lisa
listening at the hearing
1.  Welcome.  The purpose of the hearing.

2.  The history of Adult Education.  The present of Adult Education.  Paul of Steenhausen of the LAO explained this.  The LAO - the Legislative Analyst Office - is a special part of government.  The LAO's job is to make reports that are very fair.  Just information.  No opinion.

3.   The new plan for Adult Education - Regional Consortia.
The AB86 Group is in charge of planning for the Regional Consortia.  Bob Harper is in this group.  He used to work at our school.  He had Tim's job.  Bob talked about why students need more ESL classes.  He said no student should be on a waiting list for a class.

4.  Workforce needs.  What is happening in the California economy?   What job training is most needed? Barbara Baran of EDGE said that more training for jobs was needed before the big crash of the economy and Adult Education - before the "flex" of flexibility.  Now, she said, we need more training.  Many students need help.

5.  Community needs.  What does the community need?  Bill Scroggins of Mt. San Antonio College said that as life changes, need to be able to respond and make good local decisions.  He said we need to make good decision that meet the bottom line (smart money choices), hold us accountable, and help our local areas.

The public in chairs at the table, waiting
their turn to speak.  Senator Liu is listening.
Behind them is a mural about the
history of California
6.  Public Comment.  SMAS Students Hitomi, Marco, and Marina shared their wisdom.  Many other people shared their opinions also.  They talked about parents, seniors, and families.  They talked about making things fair for everyone.  They talked about democracy  - they want to make sure the decisions for the new Regional Consortia are democratic.  They want everyone to have a voice. 

The Legislators shared their opinions and asked questions, too. 

Senator Carol Liu said she has cared about Adult Education for a long time.  In the past she was in the Assembly. She worked for Adult Education then, too.  She chaired the Select Committee on Adult Education.  Senator Liu said that job readiness and the California economy are linked.  She said that 19% of Californians age 25 and old do not have a high school degree.  She said that 22% of adults in California who are between 18 and 64 in age speak English less than well.  She said 15% of Californians live below the poverty line and 25% in the Central Valley.

Assembly Member Quirk-Silva said she thinks we need to be careful.   She thinks we should not make Adult Education only about 6 programs.  She thinks we should continue the way it has been with 10 programs.  Maybe in the future, she said, we will need those programs.  We should be careful about what we do and think about the future.

Assembly Member Rocky Chavez asked if people have enough information to do a good job.  There are many, many changes in education now at every level.  Are there too many changes?  Is the Legislature asking people to do too many things?   He said in the past, he ran a state agency.  It is good, he said, to do one objective at a time.  He understands the power of focus.

Two Assembly Members, Assembly Member Fox and Assembly Member Medina, used to teach in Adult Education.  They taught ESL.  They talked about what they know from their experience.

Senator Loni Hancock and Senator Carol Liu were the only members who stayed the whole time.  The other legislators had to leave to vote on new laws.  They will watch the video to hear the comments they missed.  Senator Hancock thanked the people who came from her district.  It takes time, energy, and planning to make a trip to Sacramento to attend a hearing.  She understood and said thank you.

Every legislator began as someone who cared about their community.  In the past, they were just like the people in the public comment time.  They were people who cared so much they wrote letters, organized events, and made trips to Sacramento.  This is why and how they became legislators.

There were many opinions and many ideas.  Many people in the room had important experience, knowledge, and wisdom to share.  Some of the ideas, opinions and priorities were the same.  Some were different.  There was agreement.  And there was conflict. 

But everyone agreed about one thing:  Adult Education matters.

We are in a time of big and deep change in education - in Adult Education, in all branches of public education.  Everywhere in California and all across the United States of America, people are talking about education.  Education is how we prepare and make a future.  What do we want for our people?  How do we want to pay and prepare for it?

Democracy is not easy.  Sometimes it is messy.  Sometimes there are strong feelings.  Always there is a lot of work.

SMAS Community the day of the May Revise 2013
But together we are stronger.  Together we can share ideas.  Together we can work to decide:  what is the best way to make a good future for our people?

Thank you to San Mateo Adult School for being part of democracy.  Not only to Lisa and the students who went to the hearing, but to everyone at the school who works every day to build a community where people and participation matter.

Democracy is not only in the capitol.

Democracy is every day when we speak our ideas and listen to others.

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