National Coalition For Literacy Participates in White House Upskill Summit

VP Biden Addressing Upskill Event
Vice President Biden addressing participants at White House Upskilling Summit, April 24th.

Last Friday, I was invited to represent both Digital Promise and the National Coalition for Literacy at the White House Upskill Summit, joining 150 employers, labor leaders, foundations, non-profits, educators and tech innovators from across the U.S. to share ideas and strategies for equipping workers with the skills they need to advance into better jobs. Much of the discussion focused on “frontline workers” — those workers who deal directly with customers or who are directly involved in the most visible functions of a business, and who are often at the bottom of the organizational chart. Assembly workers, bank tellers, cashiers, and stock workers are examples.

During the summit, the White House announced new commitments being made by public and private partners in response to a call to action launched by the President in January “to help workers of all ages earn a shot at better, higher-paying jobs, even if they don’t have a higher education.”

I wish there had been more representatives from the adult education field present. For those of us who were there, it was a unique opportunity to advocate directly with employers on behalf of workers with very low skills—many of whom are part of that frontline workforce. As we know from PIAAC, two-thirds of the estimated 36 million adults in this country with very low literacy skills are employed, but often in low-paying, dead-end jobs. The lack of basic skills blocks millions of these workers from accessing the education and training they need to advance to better paying jobs.

I was impressed by the level of interest among participants in the needs of the lowest-skilled workers and in the U.S. adult education system in general. During his opening remarks, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez specifically acknowledged that literacy and numeracy challenges often hold people back from advancing their careers beyond those frontline jobs, and this provided a perfect opening for me as I advocated for these workers throughout the day.

The summit closed with an address from Vice President Joe Biden, who tied the discussions held during the day to the broader goals laid out in his Job-Driven Training Action Plan from last year.

National Coalition for Literacy Urges Congress to Make Adult Education a 2016 Budget Priority

NCL 2016 Budget Letter - March 2015This week NCL sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to draft a budget resolution that supports adequate funding for adult education under Title II of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). As noted in our letter, the federal investment in adult education state grants has been steadily declining in terms of real dollars since FY 2002. Unlike many other programs, adult education state grants did not have  its sequestered funds restored in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act. The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 included a $5 million increase, but that was $26 million less than the pre-sequestration level of $595 million.

In addition, we asked that the budget resolution provide the appropriations committees with the flexibility to consider full restoration of “ability-to-benefit” under the Pell grant program.

For more details, we encourage you to read the entire letter.

The congressional budget resolution establishes overall revenue and spending totals for a given fiscal year (in this case, for fiscal year 2016). It allocates spending among major government functions, set limits on discretionary spending programs, and establishes target levels for mandatory spending.

The House and Senate Budget Committees are drafting their two respective budget resolutions this month. They are not required to follow the President’s budget, but they often use it as their starting point.

NCL Joins With NDD United to Advocate for Eliminating Sequestration

In 2013, the Bipartisan Budget Act negotiated by Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) provided partial, temporary relief from sequestration. Unfortunately full sequestration is due to return in 2016. In response, NDD United, an alliance of organizations working together to protect nondefense discretionary funding, has renewed its efforts to bring an end to sequestration.

On February 18th, the National Coalition for Literacy joined more than 2,100 nondefense discretionary (NDD) United organizations to urge Congress and President Obama to work together to end sequestration. This letter, co-signed by NCL, emphasizes (1) the importance of NDD programs, (2) the harmful effects of budget cuts to date, and (3) the equal importance of both defense and nondefense programs in America’s security at home and abroad, and thus the need for equal sequestration relief.

Cuts to date have had significant impacts on the lives of Americans as demonstrated in NDD United’s 2013 report “Faces of Austerity: How Budget Cuts Make Us Sicker, Poorer, and Less Secure.”

“Unless theses restraints on federal spending are loosened, it’s unlikely that even the marginal funding  increases authorized by the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) will ever see the light of day,” notes Jeff Carter, President of the National Coalition for Literacy.

Deficit reduction measures enacted since 2010 have come overwhelmingly from spending cuts. So far, Congress and the President have been unable to agree on a plan to replace the damaging cuts. As work begins on the 2016 budget, NCL will continue to press the Congress and the President to eliminate or replace sequestration.

National Coalition for Literacy Submits Immigration Policy Principles to the White House Task Force on New Americans

Last week, the National Coalition for Literacy submitted its immigration policy principles to the White House Task Force on New Americans, a new inter-agency group created by Presidential Memorandum in November of 2014.

NCL recommendations regarding immigration reform emphasize:

  • Leveraging the existing Adult Education and Family Literacy system, provided by Title II of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act
  • Increasing resources to that system: the infrastructure of the system can handle the increase in services but it needs new resources to address the demand that will inevitably result from executive or legislative action on immigration
  • Wrap-around services: successful adult education programs working with immigrants should also have the resources to provide wrap‐around services,  such as child care, transportation, and other wrap‐around services
  • The importance of basing any English language proficiency requirement on research and evidence‐based practice
  • Using and expanding family literacy or two-generation program models: a two‐generation approach is a short‐term solution in the path to learn English and a long‐term solution in the success of the next generation.