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Year in Review 2021

Year in Review 2021

As the new year begins, the NCL Board is looking back over the successes of 2021 and considering how to build on them for the important advocacy and awareness work that lies ahead. Here are some highlights of our advocacy initiatives from the past year.

Accomplishments in 2021

Hill Briefing

In April, NCL partnered with VALUEUSA and ProLiteracy to provide a virtual Hill briefing entitled Literacy to Leadership: Policies That Promote Adult Student Success. Introductory remarks were provided by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI); Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA-03), Chairman, Committee on Education and Labor; and Congressman John Yarmuth (D-KY-03), Co-Chair, House Adult Literacy Caucus. The briefing speakers, including Kim Ford (CEO, Martha’s Table), Rachel DeVaughan (Deputy Executive Director, Mississippi Community College Board), Carlos Vasquez (Adult Education Instructor, Catholic Charities NM), and HollyAnn Fresa-Moore (Principal, Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School), stressed the many ways that policy decisions can make a transformative difference in the lives of adult learners. The briefing elicited a lively chat exchange among the 200+ attendees; a video recording is available at https://youtu.be/L-jBquG17VI.

Senate HELP Committee and WIOA Reauthorization

In April, NCL submitted a memo to Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) in response to the HELP Committee’s request for comments on workforce development and WIOA programs. NCL’s memo contained six recommendations:

  • Recognize the centrality of adult basic education to the success of workforce training and economic recovery efforts
  • Recognize that full and effective participation in the workforce requires the application of broader life skills
  • Amend deficit-based language that leads to deficit-based programming
  • Reorient adult basic education accountability and outcomes reporting toward a competency-based approach
  • Provide support for remote instruction models and the use of technology in adult education
  • Invest in research on evidence-based AEFLA program models

In providing these recommendations, NCL noted that they were designed to “improve the legislation so that it more fully realizes its essential purpose of ensuring equitable access to quality education and training for all adults.” NCL has continued to promote these recommendations throughout 2021 in its work with Senator Reed’s office on revised language for the WIOA legislation.

Digital Equity Act

In June, NCL endorsed the bipartisan Digital Equity Act of 2021, which was introduced by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rob Portman (R-OH). The Act, which provides for a five-year federal investment in digital equity, was passed as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that was enacted by the 117th Congress and signed into law by the President on November 15. NCL had previously endorsed the Act in 2020 and has worked actively in support of its passage since then.

OCTAE and Department of Education Interactions

NCL participated in a series of invitation-only information-gathering sessions with OCTAE staff throughout the year. These sessions allowed NCL and other participants to update OCTAE on developments and activities in the field; the final session of the year was a face-to-face one-on-one meeting with Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal.

National Reporting System

In November 2020, NCL submitted comments on proposed changes to the National Reporting System. Our comments, which stressed the need to allow adult education programs to report outcomes for all learners across all types of measurable skill gains, aligned with those expressed by a number of our colleague organizations. OCTAE responded positively to these concerns, and in early 2021 issued a program memo providing revised guidance on outcome reporting in the pandemic environment.

Naturalization Civics Test

In December 2020, NCL submitted a letter to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to express concerns about the development process, administration procedures, and preparation requirements for the revised naturalization civics test that USCIS released in November 2020. Similar concerns were expressed by many of our colleague organizations. USCIS responded positively, and in early 2021 announced that it would continue to use the prior version of the civics test.

Civil Rights

Throughout the year, NCL continued its collaboration with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights as the Hub for adult education, addressing concerns related to finalization of data from the 2020 Decennial Census and signing on to several other civil rights and human rights related communications throughout the year.

Conference Presentations

NCL Board members provided advocacy-related presentations at major conferences throughout the year, including the annual conventions of TESOL International, COABE, AAACE, and the National Literacy Summit hosted by the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy in October.

Adult Education and Family Literacy Week

NCL’s 2021 National AEFL Week activities in September focused on the foundational role of adult education in solutions to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting recession and unemployment. In 2022, National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week will be observed from September 18 to September 24.

Organizational Growth

NCL completed its first full year with an Executive Director supporting the Board in its leadership role.

Plans for 2022

Every year, NCL actively pursues opportunities to promote adult education in policy-related matters. In 2022, we will

  • Improve adult education’s visibility and messaging as a key influencer to ensure our purpose and contributions to the U.S. education system are understood by policy makers, stakeholders, and the field
  • Increase awareness of the role adult education plays in digital equity, inclusive economic recovery, counteracting systemic racism, and social justice
  • Promote broadening of the options for accountability in adult education
  • Continue to work on organizational sustainability by increasing NCL’s membership base and securing external funding for our work

As always, we will conduct national public policy advocacy with Congress and keep our members connected with developments on Capitol Hill. NCL member organizations and individual friends will have opportunities to be involved in the national conversation on public policy through NCL’s semi-annual meetings, monthly public policy calls, conference panel discussions, and task groups.

Reconciliation, Infrastructure, and Adult Education

Reconciliation, Infrastructure, and Adult Education

August has been far busier than usual on the federal level this summer, due to the release of several plans from the White House and related budget development activities in Congress. If you are bewildered by the plethora of plans, budgets, and reconciliations, you are not alone. It’s important to understand what’s happening, though, because the time for advocacy is now.

Build Back Better Plans and Congressional Actions

The Administration’s Build Back Better agenda includes three plans:

In the second week of August, the Senate passed a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill and a $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill (the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act). Each is a broad-brush document that does not specify programs or funding levels for individual initiatives but could include aspects of the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan. Both are now under consideration in the House of Representatives, which will complete its work on the reconciliation package first, and then take up the infrastructure bill.

As the National Skills Coalition’s Katie Spiker notes,

Next month, members in both the House and Senate will be in daily discussions on which programs to include in the reconciliation package and how much to spend on each one. By as early as September 15th, the House will pass a reconciliation package and send it over to the Senate. The Senate will make changes and – optimistically – Senators want to pass their version of reconciliation by the end of October. At that point both chambers will either conference to iron out differences or the House will pass the Senate version of the bill.

The critical question is, will the final reconciliation package, now known as the Build Back Better Act, include the provisions that adult education and family literacy advocates are hoping for? Time—and advocacy—will tell.

Advocacy Timeline and Contacts: Reconciliation

Activities and funding levels for adult education, family literacy, workforce skills, and related initiatives will be determined during the markup process in the relevant committees on each side of the Capitol: the Senate HELP Committee and the House Education & Labor Committee. Each of these committees has many different priorities to which they must allocate funding, so advocacy is essential to ensure that Members of Congress are aware of the broad base of support for adult education.

The House Education & Labor Committee is expected to mark up its portion of the budget reconciliation bill next Thursday, Sept. 9, so immediate advocacy with Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA-03), Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC-05), and other members of that committee is crucial.

Key Advocacy Points

Here are five key advocacy points.

Point 1. $100 billion for skills training

What it is: Various organizations in the workforce development arena have been advocating for this amount to be included in COVID-19 recovery funding since early spring, and the White House included it in the description of the American Jobs Plan, which refers to $100 billion for workforce skills development, including “expanded career services and the Title II adult literacy program.”

What to say: Stress that a $100 billion investment in skills training is critical for workers who have been adversely affected by the pandemic. This amount is needed to strengthen training and support that will give workers in-demand skills and the resilience to respond to changes in the workplace.

Useful resources: 10-minute video explanation of the current situation with budget reconciliation; Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery by NSC staff

Point 2. $1 billion for adult education capacity building

What it is: Various adult education organizations, particularly COABE, have been advocating for this amount since the spring as part of COVID-19 relief funding. It would be a one-time infusion of money to support expansion of adult ed capacity, beyond the regular annual appropriation for AEFLA. (Note that the President included $100 million in mandatory funding through the American Jobs Plan, in addition to regular funding for AEFLA, in his budget request.)

What to say: The Survey of Adult Skills shows that 43 million U.S. adults need to develop the basic literacy, numeracy, and digital skills that allow for full participation in community and the workplace. However, current program capacity only serves a tiny fraction of those. This funding will expand program capacity so that more adults are able to pursue and achieve their educational goals.  

Useful resources: COABE’s Educate & Elevate advocacy materials and Take Action options; ProLiteracy’s Advocacy Toolkit

Point 3. Increased Pell grant funding

What it is: The American Families Plan includes $85 billion for the Pell Grant program, increasing the maximum grant by $1,400.

What to say: Pell grants are a major source of financial aid for low-income university students, but they cover only part of the cost. Increasing the grant amount will reduce the debt load that these students must take on, thus increasing retention and completion rates.

Point 4. Public library construction and renovation

What it is: The Build America’s Libraries Act, introduced in the Senate in January and the House in March, would fund upgrades to the nation’s library infrastructure. It acknowledges the essential role that public libraries play in providing adult education and family literacy services and support.

What to say: Including the Build America’s Libraries Act in the reconciliation package would enable libraries to address challenges such as natural disasters, broadband capacity, environmental hazards, and accessibility barriers. It would pave the way for new and improved library facilities in underserved communities across the country.

Useful resources: American Library Association Build America’s Libraries Act webpage and Take Action tool; Roll Call op-ed We can’t build back better without libraries

Point 5. Digital equity

What it is: The Digital Equity Act would provide digital skills training and increase online access for low-income populations. This Act is included in the Senate infrastructure bill, which also includes substantial funding for broadband grants to states and an extension of the Emergency Broadband Benefit.

What to say: Broadband access is essential for full participation in society, including for education, health care, and financial well-being. The Digital Equity Act and infrastructure funding will extend this critical connectivity tool to the underserved communities that need it most.

Useful resources: National Digital Inclusion Alliance information page; Digital Equity Act webpage

Celebrating Juneteenth

Celebrating Juneteenth

Today and tomorrow the National Coalition for Literacy joins the country in celebrating the new Juneteenth federal holiday, dedicated to marking the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States. This year is the first year that Juneteenth will be officially recognized, whilst the day is included in the 2022 US Holidays list and every list after that, so this isn’t just a one-off special occasion. Previous administrations have been reluctant to add the day to the list, but Biden has finally passed it into law.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC-06) has noted,

Juneteenth is the commemoration of African American Independence Day. On this June 19th, we celebrate the 140th anniversary of slaves in Galveston, Texas learning of the Emancipation Proclamation, some eighteen months after its effective date, and we reflect on the unheralded contributions of slaves to this nation’s history.

The new holiday presents an valuable opportunity to learn about important but little-recognized aspects of U.S. history. Read the recent PBS article by Beatrice Alvarez for information on the history of Juneteenth and ways that communities around the country will be observing it. Also, check out the lesson packet on Juneteenth, available in beginner, intermediate, and advanced versions from the Change Agent. Per the description,

The text shares a family’s oral account of being slaves in Texas in 1865 when word of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached them, a description of Juneteenth celebrations in Texas, and the ways an artist has preserved family history with her artwork. Students also have a chance to look at and analyze two full-color paintings by Sonia Sadler.

Juneteenth is a time of national celebration as the country comes together to remember the freedoms we are so grateful for in our country. With President Biden officially recognising Juneteenth as a federal holiday by law, it is a time to fly on our American-made steel flagpoles and be proud of our great nation. The NCL concurs with the sentiment so eloquently expressed by Congressman Clyburn:

On this Juneteenth, I hope our nation focuses on what we can do to move beyond our past and build a better future.

Bipartisan Digital Equity Act of 2021 Introduced Today in the Senate

Bipartisan Digital Equity Act of 2021 Introduced Today in the Senate

This morning Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) are introducing a bill that promotes a five-year federal investment in digital equity.

The Digital Equity Act of 2021 strengthens federal support for efforts to help ensure students, families, and workers have the information technology capacity needed to fully participate in society by establishing two grant programs to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to promote digital equity nationwide:

  • Building Capacity within States through Formula Grants: The legislation creates an annual $125 million formula grant program for all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to fund the creation and implementation of comprehensive digital equity plans in each State.
  • Spurring Targeted Action through Competitive Grants: The legislation also creates an annual $125 million competitive grant program to support digital equity projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions, and/or communities of interest.
  • Supporting Research and Evidence-Based Policymaking: The legislation tasks NTIA with evaluating digital inclusion projects and providing policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels with detailed information about which projects are most effective.

Read an article on the legislation by @DavidIngram on @NBCNews.

Senator Murray first introduced the Digital Equity Act in 2019 to help improve broadband adoption and bridge the digital divide. During the 2020 election, this bill was included in then-candidate Biden’s broadband platform. Earlier this year, President Biden also unveiled his American Jobs Plan, which includes a $100 billion investment to build high-speed broadband infrastructure to reach 100 percent coverage, promote transparency and competition, reduce the cost of broadband internet service and promote more widespread adoption. Senators Murray and Portman will be advocating for key provisions of the bipartisan Digital Equity Act to be included in any forthcoming infrastructure package.

#DigitalEquityNow

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