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DC’s Smart New Investment In Transportation Assistance for Adult Learners

Next year, DC residents in adult education programs won’t have to worry about whether they have bus fare to get to and from class, because the just-passed DC budget includes money to let them use public transportation for free. Thousands of vulnerable residents will have a better chance at getting the education needed to land a good job, and DC’s large investment in adult education will be more effective because attendance and completion rates will likely improve.

Improving adult education should be a top priority in DC. 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. Adults without a high school credential are seven times more likely to live in poverty than those with a high school credential, and five times more likely to be unemployed than residents with a bachelor’s degree.[2] Most residents without a high school credential are black, reflecting one of the starkest racial inequities in DC.

Roughly 8,000 adults are currently attending adult education programs in the District. Yet the high cost of transportation has been a major barrier to participation in these programs. While Kids Ride Free allows students through age 22 to use Metrorail and bus for free, older students currently pay the full price. Informal surveys of adult learners show that one-third reported having to miss class or even drop out of school due to the cost of transportation. A 2016 report by the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME) confirmed this problem and noted that “the current investment in adult education could yield greater results with a reduction in transportation costs for adult learners.”[3]

These findings are backed up by national research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which found that services such as transportation or housing assistance “can help adults—especially those with caregiving responsibilities—complete job training programs that will ultimately improve their economic standing.”[4]

The $2 million included for transportation assistance in the FY 2018 budget will go a long way toward helping adult learners achieve their educational goals, enable them to get better jobs, and thereby help the District get the most out of its $80 million in local and federal dollars spent on adult education each year.

We applaud the DC Council for providing this assistance, and hope that implementation moves forward swiftly and efficiently.

[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 https://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.

[4] https://iwpr.org/publications/getting-finish-line-availability-impact-supportive-services-workforce-development-system/