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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 Support for Adult Education Research

Bipartisan Support for Adult Education Research

On Wednesday afternoon (April 14), Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Senator Todd Young (R-IN) introduced the bipartisan Strengthening Research in Adult Education Act (S. 1126). According to Senator Reed’s introductory statement, the Act

will amend the Education Sciences Reform Act to require the Institute for Education Sciences and the National Center for Education Statistics to collect data and carry out research on: successful state and local adult education and literacy activities, the characteristics and academic achievement of adult learners, and access to and opportunity for adult education, including digital literacy skills development, in communities across the country. It will also ensure that the Institute of Education Sciences draws on the expertise of adult educators when developing policies and priorities. Finally, the legislation would require that at least one research center would focus on adult education.

You can read Senator Reed’s full introductory statement HERE. The full text of the Act itself is not yet available.

The Strengthening Research in Adult Education Act puts forward critical initiatives that will strengthen adult education greatly if the legislation is passed. The National Coalition for Literacy and its member organizations deeply appreciate the work that Senator Reed and Senator Young are doing to promote federal support for adult education.

Literacy to Leadership

Literacy to Leadership

Literacy to Leadership: Policies That Promote Adult Student Success was the focus of a Congressional briefing presented by NCL, VALUEUSA, and ProLiteracy on April 14, 2021. The briefing illustrated the power of adult education to transform lives and build the strength and resilience of communities.

The briefing opened with introductory remarks from three Congressional champions of adult education:

Briefing panelists included adults who have taken alternative education paths and are now leaders in the field, as well as practitioners with extensive knowledge of the role of policy in promoting high-quality adult education programs. 

  • Kim R. Ford, President and CEO, Martha’s Table, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education
  • Rachel DeVaughan, Ph.D., Deputy Executive Director, Programs at Mississippi Community College Board
  • Carlos Vasquez, Instructor, Catholic Charities of New Mexico
  • HollyAnn Fresa-Moore, Principal, Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School
  • Marty Finsterbusch, Executive Director, VALUEUSA

Recordings of the full briefing and the individual panelists’ presentations are available through the links below.

Full Briefing


Kim R. Ford


Rachel DeVaughan


Carlos Vasquez


HollyAnn Freso-Moore


Marty Finsterbusch

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