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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

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

Help for Those Who Lack Broadband Access

Help for Those Who Lack Broadband Access

By Gwenn Weaver

For participants in adult education and family literacy programs who have no or limited broadband access, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB) offers potential solutions.

This $3.2 billion program is intended to provide a discounted price of up to $50 per month (up to $75 per month on Tribal lands) to help eligible households acquire access to adequate broadband Internet service. The monthly payment will go directly to the vendor providing the service. Additionally, households purchasing a desktop or laptop computer or a tablet from a participating provider may obtain a one-time discount of up to $100 on a single device.

The EBB is being managed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). According to the FCC’s consumer fact sheet, at least one member of the household must meet one of the following criteria to qualify for the program:

  • Qualifies for the Lifeline program, including those who are on Medicaid or receive SNAP benefits. To learn more about Lifeline eligibility, go to Do I Qualify?.
  • Receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, or did so in the 2019-2020 school year.
  • Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020, and the household had a total income in 2020 below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers.
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant in the current award year; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

The FCC expects to open the enrollment process for consumers by the end of April.

Internet service providers (ISPs) must opt in to offer the program. The EBB will only be available in areas where an ISP that has joined the program provides service. You can find your ISPs by searching online for “isp in my area” or similar research terms. The FCC is currently in the process of signing up service providers and will announce the eligible offerings before opening up consumer enrollment. More information regarding the vendor/ISP process can be found on the FCC website at Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.

The EBB is funded by an appropriation from Congress. The subsidy will be paid until either the funds run out or the pandemic emergency is declared over, whichever comes first. Customers will be notified before the subsidy ends so that they can determine whether or not they want to continue the Internet service.

No funds were allocated for outreach activities to communicate with the public about the program, so the FCC is seeking to partner with people and organizations to get the word out. To become a partner, complete the form at the bottom of the consumer information page at Emergency Broadband Benefit.

For additional Information, visit the EBB resource page of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA).

Congratulations!

Congratulations!

Today the National Coalition for Literacy celebrates the inauguration of President Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. and Vice President Kamala Devi Harris! 

Throughout his career, President Biden has been a consistent advocate for adult education, most notably in his promotion of adult career pathways innovation in the White House report Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity that accompanied the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act authorization in 2014. In that report he spoke of adult education programs as “particularly important to those hardest hit by the twists and turns of global competition, technological changes, economic isolation, or inadequate education opportunities.”

As the Biden Administration begins to address the economic fallout of the global pandemic and the systemic inequities that it has both revealed and exacerbated, adult education will continue to play a pivotal role. Adult education programs seek to counteract systemic inequities in education that disproportionately affect Black, Brown, Indigenous, and immigrant/refugee community members by providing instruction in foundational literacy and numeracy skills, high school equivalency, and workforce/college readiness. As recent Survey of Adult Skills data shows, in the United States, 19 percent of adults are profoundly in need of literacy skills development and 29 percent lack critical numeracy skills. These adults are overrepresented in communities of color—the same communities that have been most adversely affected by the COVID-induced health and economic challenges that are rooted in systemic inequity.

Adult education in the United States has deep roots in social justice efforts that recognize and promote literacy and learning as central to access, voice, and action for all. The very first adult schools – Massachusetts in 1842; California in 1856 – were community-level efforts focused on immigrant integration through English language and civics instruction, and basic literacy for adults with limited formal education. During the civil rights protests of the 1960s, a federal investment in adult education was recommended as one strategy for mitigating the effects of structural and systemic racism. Over the decades since then, adult education has continued its mission of opening the doors to economic opportunity and full participation in society through education. While the recent Survey of Adult Skills data demonstrates the persistence of inequities, the power of adult education to address them and promote social justice is documented in studies such as The Case for Investment in Adult Education. As the Education Strategy Group has noted, “education holds the key to economic revitalization and must play a central role in addressing systemic inequities.”

During the months of the pandemic, adult education programs have turned to remote teaching to continue providing services. Yet this instruction has been inaccessible to many in adult education’s learner population due to limitations on digital access in rural and low-income areas of the country. Educational inclusion and digital inclusion now go hand in hand, and adult education’s ability to counter the effects of educational inequity and systemic racism increasingly depend on complementary investments in digital infrastructure and access to internet-enabled devices and digital skills instruction.

In states and communities across the country, adult education’s power lies in its ability to meet the moment and rise to the challenge. The National Coalition for Literacy welcomes President Biden and Vice President Harris and encourages them to build on the nation’s commitment to educational equity by recognizing adult education’s critical work, investing in it, and rewarding it.

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