By Max Hrenda
More than a month ago, Johnson County beat out Carter County in a state-sponsored competition to determine which would oversee adult education for the combined region.
The decision isn’t necessarily final; last Monday, Carter County Schools appealed the decision to the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Officials said the decision will take roughly two weeks.
While pitting counties against each other might not be routine, the push to reduce spending on adult education is becoming so in Tennessee.
Three years ago, the state’s adult education programs were told their budgets would be scaled back by 20 percent.
Two years ago, the state removed another 20 percent.
Then, last year, adult education supervisors were told certain counties would be combined into a single service area … but only one office would coordinate services.
What has proven to be perplexing for educators and legislators alike is that the demand for adult education is increasing, while its funding is systematically decreasing.
“I don’t understand exactly what we’re doing,” said state Rep. Kent Williams. “We had the largest budget that we had ever had, by far. To cut such a vital program, I think, is a huge mistake.”
For the 2011 fiscal year, Tennessee spent $3.9 million on adult education. Only two states – Kansas ($1.4 million) and Mississippi ($2 million) – of the 13 states in the Southeast region spent less.
Under that budget, the state distributed 9,159 GED certificates. That means that Tennessee spent $425.31 per certificate. In the Southeast region, only Mississippi ($265.60) and Texas ($380.38) averaged less.
Though Tennessee has demonstrated it can produce results with low budgets, it appears some at the state level feel as though there is still room to cut back.
According to Williams, who has been one of the more outspoken critics of the cuts, reducing spending on adult education will only serve to hurt Tennesseans.
“We should be reaching out to expand adult education, not cutting it back,” Williams said. “We’re putting over $300 million additional dollars into higher education, and making it harder on those individuals who want to pursue higher education by getting their GED, better their lives, and better prepare for the work force.”
Barring a successful appeal, the task of preparing adults for the work force in Johnson and Carter counties now falls on Jewell Hamm, adult education supervisor for Johnson County Schools.