Gov. Martin O'Malley wants Maryland to have a more comprehensive work force development system. He would transfer adult education programs within the state Department of Education to the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which is trying to match potential workers with jobs in a rapidly changing economy.
But those functions don't have to be mutually exclusive - at least not yet. What's needed may not be a wholesale transfer, but more focused collaboration between the two agencies.
Despite Maryland's wealth and ability to generate high-paying jobs, there is a persistent skills gap. About 750,000 Marylanders don't have good literacy skills, English language proficiency or a high school diploma. Nearly 70 percent are between the prime working ages of 16 to 59, yet more than half are not in the work force and 25 percent are poor or close to it. But while the state's adult education programs generally get good marks, there are simply not enough of them. And that's as the MSDE is trying to increase the number of Marylanders with a high school diploma
Only about 35,000 people are currently enrolled in adult education programs in the state, with an average 5,000 a year on waiting lists. The classes - including GED and English as a second language - are generally funded with public and private money and administered through community colleges, local groups, corrections facilities, libraries and K-12 schools.
The administration proposal, which is being considered by the General Assembly, would move oversight responsibility for these programs to the DLLR. Secretary Thomas Perez insists that his agency could do a better job of coordinating adult education programs with work force development needs, including preparing prisoners for work outside the walls. While a majority of states put adult education with K-12, several have moved it to their labor or higher education departments - but with mixed success.
Regardless of where adult education resides, commitment, energy and sustainability are among the key ingredients for success - qualities expressed by officials at both the DLLR and the MSDE.
One important missing ingredient is money. Maryland has consistently underfunded adult education (it ranks among the bottom third of the states), despite research showing that an investment of $1 yields $3 in increased earnings within 18 months. The O'Malley administration ought to push for better collaboration between the DLLR and the MSDE - and then try to bring the supply of adult ed programs closer to demand.