DC Should Invest in Transportation Subsidies for Adult Learners

February 17th, 2017 | by Ilana Boivie

On any given day, there are adults in DC who can’t get to their GED class or other adult education program simply because they don’t have bus fare. Just as the District helps “Kids Ride Free” to school, the District should invest in transportation assistance to help adult learners achieve their educational goals, leading to better jobs to support themselves and their families.

As Mayor Bowser and the DC Council start their work on the budget for 2018, adding just $2 million for transportation assistance would improve the outcomes of the city’s substantial investments in adult education—and strengthen the DC economy by helping more residents live up to their potential.

The District of Columbia’s economic progress is undermined by an income inequality crisis. Some 60,000 DC residents lack a high school diploma or equivalent,[1] and over half of the students in adult education programs test at a sixth-grade level or below in reading and/or math. Most residents without a high school degree are black, reflecting one of the starkest aspects of racial inequity in DC.

Low literacy and low educational attainment are root causes of poverty, unemployment, poor health and homelessness. Adults without a high school credential are seven times more likely to live in poverty than those with a high school credential. D.C. residents without a high school degree are five times as likely to be unemployed as residents with a bachelor’s degree.[2]

The District invests over $80 million in local and federal dollars in educational instruction for adult learners, yet the results are undermined because many can’t get to their classes. Unlike students under age 22—who ride Metrorail and bus for free—students over age 22 pay the full price, which poses a significant financial burden that often leaves them stuck in a cycle of enrolling and dropping out.

A recent report by the Deputy Mayor for Education recommends “expand[ing] the unlimited bus and rail component of the School Transit Subsidy program to all District residents enrolled in a publicly funded adult education program.”[3]  Serving nearly 7,500 students would cost no more than $2 million. This includes adults enrolled in community-based organizations (CBOs), UDC’s Workforce Development and Lifelong Learning programs (WDLL), and adult charter and alternative education schools. The DME report notes that “the current investment in adult education could yield greater results with a reduction in transportation costs for adult learners.”

We urge the Mayor to include transportation subsidies for adult learners in her proposed budget for fiscal year 2018.

[1] DC’s WIOA State Plan. Available at http://dcworks.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/dcworks/publication/attachments/WIOA_DC_Unified_State_Plan_Final.pdf

[2] Lazere, E., and M. Guzman. 2015. “Left Behind: DC’s Economic Recovery Is Not Reaching All Residents.” DCFPI. Available at http://www.dcfpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/State-of-Working-DC.Final_1.pdf

[3] The DME report notes that certain adult learners may have access to transportation subsidies through other programs, and provides descriptions of these various programs. However, the report goes on to conclude that due to “very narrow, specific eligibility requirements” there remains a very high unmet need in the city.

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