Legislative Center



October 4, 2016

Today we are pleased to announce that COABE and the National Council of State Directors of Adult Education are partnering in an advocacy effort to strengthen and grow Adult Education.
COABE is organized to advance national and international adult education and literacy opportunities for all persons. Its more than 15,000 members include adult educators, administrators, and mentors working to improve educational outcomes for adults.
The purpose of the NCSDAE is to attend to its members legislative needs and concerns, to work with other adult education organizations to exchange ideas and solve common problems, and to establish and maintain a nationwide communication network regarding national policy and legislative issues.
According to COABE President Tom Nash, "We all know that advocacy is important to the health and well-being of the field. Effective advocacy will ensure that legislators, funders, and the general community are aware of the important work that we are all undertaking each and every day to make our country a better place to live, grow, and prosper."
Beverly Smith, Chair of the Council of State Directors noted, "The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) places new responsibilities on Adult Educators that require additional resources. We are excited to be working with COABE to make our policy makers more aware of the key role that Adult Education plays in enhancing our nation's competitiveness and our citizens more active and engaged."
Polly Smith, COABE's Public Policy Chair and Sharon Bonney, COABE's Executive Director, summed up the joint agenda as "advocating for more funds, more classes, and an end to waiting lists." They said "Adult Education state grants have been reduced by more than 25%, in real dollars, since 2002. In the meantime, other nations are fast outperforming America in boosting the educational levels of their young and working age adults. According to PIAAC (OECD's Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies), Americans lag behind the international average for basic skills in literacy and numeracy and "problem-solving in technology-rich environments (defined as "using digital technology, communication tools and networks to acquire and evaluate information, communicate with others and perform practical tasks"). Worse still, the U.S. is losing ground. The United States is the only free-market country where the current generation is less well educated than the previous one. We must reverse this trend if we are to successfully compete in the world economy of the 21st century."
Art Ellison, Co-Chair of the State Directors' Policy Committee noted "some 36 million working age Americans have low literacy skills, and more than 60 million can't perform simple math and we need to improve their skills so they can compete for meaningful employment with family sustaining wages, lead their families and contribute to their communities."

The 50 State Directors and COABE's 15,000 members across the nation are dedicated to working together to expand access to Adult Education, promote professional development, and support high quality research about the role that Adult education is playing, and can play, in strengthening our Nation's economy and civil society through civics education.
Both organizations agree that this new partnership will make our advocacy efforts more robust, focused and effective as we work together to better our members and our students.
For more information, please contact: 
Sharon Bonney, Executive Director,
COABE at sharonbonney@coabe.org 
Dr. Lennox McLendon, Executive Director, 
National Council of State Directors of Adult Education at lmclendon@naepdc.org 


September 27, 2016


Congress is back in town for several weeks. Its highest priority is to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the federal government at current funding levels in FY 2017, which starts on October 1. News reports suggest that Senate Republican leadership is negotiating with Democrats to pass a CR, which would expire on December 9, leaving final resolution of FY 2017 Appropriations, until after the election.  

Under this scenario, Congress would return after November 8 for a lame duck session and finish appropriations work, likely in the form of a large, omnibus bill similar to those used frequently in recent years or in a series of so-called “mini-buses” which would package a few bills at a time. 

The duration of the CR has become a political issue. It appears that while both the Republican and Democratic leaders want this CR to only last a few months setting up a “lame-duck session,” members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and other House conservatives, and want the government funded into 2017, when a new Administration and a new Congress can determine funding levels. They take the position that Omnibus bills completed to meet arbitrary deadlines rarely include their priorities. 

We could again find ourselves in a situation in which the House Republican leadership would need Democratic votes to pass a CR or in which it would pass a longer term CR, which Senate Democrats and the White House would likely oppose. If the House Republican leadership cannot devise a solution to this split, the prospect of a government shutdown will loom larger. House Republicans are scheduled to meet in closed-door sessions this week to discuss a compromise. We will continue to update you as we learn more. 

CTE Reauthorization: 

You may recall that on July 7, the House Education and the Workforce Committee unanimously approved a Perkins reauthorization bill, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 5587), sponsored by Reps. Glenn Thompson (R-PA), co-chair of the House CTE Caucus, and Katherine Clark (D-MA). The bipartisan committee bill is the first comprehensive reauthorization of Perkins to be considered by Congress in a decade. 

The House will take up the CTE reauthorization bill, under suspension, on September 13. Using the suspension process means that a bill is non-controversial ands enjoys broad bi-partisan support (in this case, reflective of the unanimous vote in support of the bill in the Education and Workforce Committee) because it limits debate, precludes amendments, and requires two-thirds of Members present and voting to approve the bill. 

In spite of this strong support, it is not a foregone conclusion that Congress will approve a Perkins Act reauthorization this year. 

The rumor is that the Senate HELP Committee will not take up the House bill but craft its own bill and that, as of now, there was "no clear path forward." Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) does not seem to put have CTE at the top of his “to do” list.  

Alexander has been involved in a long-running dispute with the Department of Education over implementation of ESSA and there is a sense his antipathy toward the Department has spilled over into Perkins.  

We continue to work on a package of amendments that would make explicit the relationship between Perkins and Adult Ed. 

Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF) and the Higher Education Act:

Both of these laws need to be reauthorized and neither will be completed in 2016. Both could have implications for Adult Education and will be on the agenda for next year.

Celebrating #AEFLWeek with a New Fact Sheet on Adult Education & Middle-Skill Jobs

September 23, 2016

It’s Adult Education and Family Literacy Week! Advocates around the country are marking this week with events and activities that celebrate the achievements of adult learners and the contributions of adult educators.

National Skills Coalition is joining in the celebration with a brand-new fact sheet highlighting the critical role of adult education in helping workers prepare for middle-skill jobs. Such jobs require more than a high school education, but not a four-year degree.

More than 24 million US workers lack key foundational skills in reading, math, or spoken English, and would benefit from adult education to help them build the skills needed to pursue occupational training and compete for these jobs. 

Adult education models such as Integrated Education and Training (IET) have a proven track record in helping adult learners acquire key skills, earn secondary and postsecondary credentials, and obtain middle-skill employment.

The fact sheet highlights four federal policies that can support the implementation of adult education program models such as IET, and provides examples of states that are capitalizing on these policies to do just that.

Among the examples highlighted is the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides support for low-income families, including through the provision of education and training to help adults find employment and move off of public benefits.

Advocates interested in how TANF can help support skill-building opportunities can review the nationally recognized Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative, which provides a broad range of support to assist low-income individuals in obtaining in-demand credentials and employment.

See more examples of support for adult learners’ skill-building activities in NSC’s Adult Education and Middle-Skill Jobs fact sheet.

Thank you to National Skills Coalition, our National Partner

COABE Government Relations Report

August 8, 2016

Since Congress is on its extended summer recess (also called District Work Week in the House and State Work Period in the Senate), we thought it would be a good idea to review how our laws get made. This information is important because it helps to inform COABE’s legislative strategy, Hill visits, and your education and advocacy activities.

Lots of people find the legislative process—how laws are proposed, passed, and funded by the U.S. Congress—arcane. With some oversimplification, this Report attempts to demystify two aspects of the process: Authorizations and Appropriations.

Congress uses the “Authorization” process to create or modify laws that authorize discretionary spending for a particular purpose, like Adult Education or Job Training. The “Appropriations” process is used to allocate real dollars to each program. Examples of Authorizing Committees are the House Education and Workforce Committee and the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committee.  Authorizing Committees have specific areas of jurisdiction and develop expertise in particular subjects. This expertise causes their colleagues to defer to them on matters of policy. You can follow their activities at edworkforce.house.gov and senate.help.gov, respectively. Both stream Committee activities like hearings and mark-ups.

The House and Senate both have an Appropriations Committee, and both operate with 12 subcommittees, each of which has responsibility for a particular portfolio of programs (these include Agriculture; Commerce, Science, Justice; Defense; Energy and Water; Financial Services; Homeland Security; Interior; Legislative Branch; Military Construction and Veterans; State; and Transportation and HUD (known as THUD).  You can track the legislative activities of each subcommittee by going to the Congress.gov website and clicking on Appropriations. You can also follow them by visiting their websites (Appropriations.senate.gov and Appropriations.house.gov)

 Committee staff develops expertise in the programs, as well, and often work closely with the Executive Branch (the Office of Management and Budget as well as the Departments and Agencies) on spending issues. These staff are extremely professional and knowledgeable.

There are several opportunities in the legislative process for advocates at the national, state, and local level to affect legislation by working with elected officials, but the further along the process gets, the more difficult this becomes. Thinking of the process as a pyramid, the higher you climb the steeper it gets.*

How the Authorization Process Works

  1. A bill is drafted with input from advocates and constituency groups. Attorneys with substantive experience do the actual drafting. These “Legislative Counsels” work for the House and Senate and do not interact directly with the public. Bills are usually developed through a back-and-forth process in which Congressional staff and the Legislative Counsel trade drafts until the staff (the Legislative Aides on behalf of the Representatives and Senators for whom they work) is satisfied with the result. This is the FIRST opportunity to affect the content of a bill.
  2. After the bill has been drafted, the author of the bill (a senator or representative) formally “introduces” or “drops” it, and it becomes a matter of public record.
    Supporters of the bill, called original co-sponsors, often join the author. The bill is given a number (In the House the number is preceded by HR and in the Senate by S).
    Based on its subject matter, the Parliamentarian then refers it to a particular Committee (which can refer it to a subcommittee which has special expertise in the issue) for further action. If the subject matter crosses other Committees, each affected Committee gets a chance to shape the part of the bill over which it has jurisdiction.

    Because Committees and subcommittees are where substantive expertise resides, members who serve on other Committees and subcommittees tend to give considerable deference to their actions. It is unusual for the content of a bill to change significantly from the Committee’s or subcommittee’s product. More change can occur from the subcommittee to full Committee stage than is likely to occur from the full Committee stage on.
  3. Some bills are “held at the full Committee” level because of their importance or timeliness and they never go through a subcommittee. But most are referred by the full Committee to a subcommittee according to relevant areas of expertise.
  4. The subcommittee holds hearings on the bill and then has a “mark-up” session in which members of the subcommittee can offer amendments. The amendment process at the subcommittee level is the SECOND opportunity to affect the content of the bill.
  5. The subcommittee completes consideration of the bill and “reports” or sends it to the full Committee for further consideration. The full Committee schedules a “mark-up” to give those members of the Committee who are not on the relevant subcommittee the chance to amend the bill. Subcommittee members also get another chance to offer amendments. The full Committee amendment process is the THIRD opportunity to affect the content of the bill. The full Committee then reports the amended bill to the full House or Senate for further consideration.
  6. In the House, the Rules Committee sets the terms under which a bill is considered. Controlled by the Majority, it determines the amount of time the full House will devote to a bill and which amendments, if any, will be considered. In the Senate, the circumstances of how and when a bill is considered are the subject of negotiations in a Time Agreement between the Majority and the Minority.
    Each bill that goes to the Floor for consideration has a “Manager” who controls the process for the Majority and the Minority side. The rules usually permit the Committee one more opportunity to change the bill through a Manager’s Amendment that includes the results of any last minute changes. Getting your proposed changes into the Manager’s Amendment is the FOURTH opportunity to affect the bill.
  7. After the Manager’s Amendment has been considered, other Members can offer amendments pursuant either to the Rule [House] or Time Agreement [Senate]. Having a Floor amendment considered is the FIFTH opportunity to affect the bill.
  8. The amended bill passes each House. Because the House and Senate versions of a bill almost always differ in several respects, the differences are usually resolved through a Conference Committee—chosen from the Committee members by the Committee Chair—which is empowered to negotiate on behalf of the entire Committee. Conferees are usually chosen on the basis of seniority and their interest in a particular bill. Influencing the decisions of the conferees is the SIXTH opportunity to affect the bill.
  9. The differences between the bills are resolved and included in a Conference Report, which includes not only the final bill, but also an explanation of Congressional intent that provides so-called “legislative history.” Getting “report language” into the Conference Report is the SEVENTH opportunity to affect the process. Report language does not have the force of law, but it does influence how the Departments and Agencies implement the law.
  10. Each House of Congress passes the new bill, which then goes to the President for signature.

How the Appropriations Process Works

Once a law authorizing discretionary spending has been signed, the Appropriations Committee must decide whether to fund it and, if so, at what level. Unlike Authorizations, which are in effect for many years, or even permanently, Congress repeats the Appropriations process every year.

The President releases the Administration’s budget in late January or early February. Then the Congressional Budget Committees (each House has its own) divide the entire budget into “Functions.” (Function 500 includes all education, training, and social service programs, for example.) By the middle of April, Congress is supposed to have approved a Budget Resolution, which sets aggregate spending limits for the year, and which may also call for changes in entitlement programs to be achieved through what is known as the Reconciliation process.

The Appropriations Committees take the total amount of discretionary spending assumed in the Budget Resolution and re-allocates it to the 12 subcommittees.

Again, a great deal of deference is paid to the relevant subcommittee because that is where the expertise resides.

Appropriators hold hearings on programs and pore over funding requests from their colleagues to help them in their decision-making. They meet with advocates for programs who try to influence their thinking.
By deciding what to fund and what not to fund, these appropriators wield considerable power over agencies and programs. Appropriations subcommittee chairs are often called “Cardinals” because of their power and the lack of transparency that (still) characterizes aspects of the process.
Appropriators affect policy through the power of the purse. They also have been known to include substantive legislation called “riders” in their bills, even though the practice is frowned upon. Working the Appropriations process is the EIGHTH opportunity to affect policy.

Appropriators want to complete work on each of the twelve bills by the end of the fiscal year (which for the U.S. Government is September 30). This happens less and less frequently. Instead of shutting down the government, the Congress passes Continuing Resolutions (or “CR’s) to keep the government functioning. Appropriations bills are often packaged together into so-called Omnibus bills to facilitate their passage.
Finally, each House operates more or less independently of the other. The same opportunities available in one House are likely to be available in the other.  While there are many pressure points at which the process can be affected, the deeper into the process one gets, the more decision-making is concentrated in fewer hands and the more difficult it is to influence things.
In sum, the Authorization process affects policy, and the Appropriation process affects discretionary funding levels. Clearly, any stage of either process can be daunting. Getting a piece of legislation to the final stage of a law and then getting it funded can take months and sometimes years. The process requires great persistence and flexibility on the part of both sponsors and advocates. But, the more you know about how the process works, the more likely you can affect the outcome.

*This essay focuses on Congress, but the Administration and the major federal departments are usually operating behind the scenes.  Their representatives work with the Congressional leadership, Committees, and subcommittees to provide expertise and to make sure that Administration positions are reflected in the final product. Because the Administration can veto a particular bill, it has power even if the other party holds one, or both, Houses of Congress.

Make Your Voice Heard on Capitol Hill:
$635 million needed for adult education

COABE members have a chance to make a difference for adult education in our country.  Your voice makes a difference.

The Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations sub-Committee has scheduled the mark up of its FY 2017 bill for June 7.  This is when they recommend who gets what in terms of funding for 2017.
Members of the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations sub-Committee are listed below. If you live in one of these states, please call your Senator and urge that he/she support funding for Adult Education at $635 million, the level authorized in WIOA. 
If you do not live in one of these states, please call Senator Blunt's office and Senator Murray's office.


  • Roy Blunt, Missouri, Chair, 202-224-5721 
  • Jerry Moran, Kansas, 202-224-6521 
  • Richard Shelby, Alabama, 202-224-5744 
  • Thad Cochran, Mississippi, 202-224-5054 
  • Lamar Alexander, Tennessee, 202-224-4944 
  • Lindsay Graham, South Carolina, 202-224-5972 
  • Mark Kirk, Illinois, 202-224-2854 
  • Bill Cassidy, Louisiana, 202-224-5824 
  • Shelley Capito, West Virginia, 202-224-6472 
  • James Lankford, Oklahoma, 202-224-5754 


  • Patty Murray, Ranking Member, Washington, 202-224-2621 
  • Dick Durbin, Illinois, 202-224-2152 
  • Jack Reed, Rhode Island, 202-224-4642 
  • Barbara Mikulski, Maryland, 202-224-4654 
  • Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire, 202-224-2841 
  • Jeff Merkley, Oregon, 202-224-3753 
  • Brian Schatz, Hawaii, 202-224-3934 
  • Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin, 202-224-5653

Please contact advocacy@coabe.org with any questions.


-Tom Nash, President
-Sharon Bonney, Executive Director
-Polly Smith, Public Policy Chair

Capitol Hill Day-September 28, 2016

COABE has many new and exciting initiatives! One such initiative is COABE's hosting of second Capitol Hill Day of 2016 on September 28, 2016. COABE believes that holding two days will enable someone from each association to attend and will impact our legislators in a more meaningful way.

With special thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, one board member representative from each of COABE's large group members will receive one FREE all-expense paid ticket to attend this event. We hope you will plan to join us as we raise the voice of adult education!

Please make your flight reservations and contact Sharon Bonney with your arrival/departure information to ensure your hotel reservations on the COABE master account are correct. Please contact our Executive Director, Sharon Bonney (sharonbonney@coabe.org) with this information.

We will be sending out more information to let you know how you can best prepare for the Capitol Hill Days and we will also have preparatory webinars as well.

As you prepare for Capitol Hill Day, feel free to gather student success stories, letters, and/or videos that can be sent to your legislator prior to the Capitol Hill visit. Legislators also appreciate solid quantitative data, so if you have access to that information, that would be helpful as well. Click here for instructions on contacting your legislator.

We hope you or a member of your board will plan to join us!

Generously sponsored by


WDQC released an infographic about the flow of Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) data, entitled “How WIOA Performance Data Works.” Click here for more information.

Join the COABE Contact Network

The COABE Contact Network is a community of people who are interested in educating decision makers – legislators, community leaders, and others – about the importance of adult education. Anyone can join.

As a member of the Network, you will receive legislative updates, advocacy resources, and action alerts designed to help you inform your federal legislators of the successes, challenges, and needs of adult education.

Additionally, you will have opportunities to:

  • Learn from other advocates, their successes and challenges
  • Share information and alerts and grow your own local network
  • Become a go-to resource for decision makers on adult education issues
  • Conduct local awareness raising activities for National Adult Education & Family Literacy Week
  • Meet amazing people from across the country who care about changing lives through literacy

You may even have the opportunity to travel to DC to visit with legislators and their staffs who work on adult education issues.  Learn more...


COABE publishes legislative updates as a service to our members and partners. Legislative updates offer the latest news on a range of federal policies–including adult basic education, workforce, and budget policy–that impact the development of a skilled workforce. This information is included in COABE's monthly membership update. Join or renew your membership today and begin receiving the latest news from Washington!

January 2016The Threat of a Constitutional Convention and Balanced Budget Amendment

A national effort is underway to pass state resolutions calling for a constitutional convention to rewrite the U.S. Constitution to sharply limit what the federal government can do to advance the nation’s priorities, invest in the country’s future, and protect the rights and opportunities of all Americans. Among the many deeply damaging Constitutional amendments that could emerge from this effort is a balanced budget amendment.  Learn more...

January 2016Presidential Survey and Response Sheet

More than 36 million adults in America struggle to read. Low adult literacy in reading, writing, and numeracy creates billions of dollars in lost revenue and increases costs for health care, corrections, welfare, and many other major social issues. According to the PIAAC study (Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies), released in 2013, the United States ranked in the bottom third of 24 surveyed countries for adult skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments. 

Why literacy? Why not focus on health? Or workforce development? Or poverty relief? The answer is simple—adult literacy and numeracy intersect with all of these. We won’t solve these socioeconomic problems unless we also build a more literate adult population. Adult basic education programs bring a powerful return on investment, impacting the lives of Americans, their families, and communities. Adult basic education helps adults break cycles of intergenerational poverty and illiteracy by providing adults the skills they need to succeed as workers, parents, and citizens. Research shows that better-educated parents raise better-educated, more successful children—who are less likely to end up in poverty or prison. 

Adult education has a critical need for services. A decline in federal and state funding in the last 10 years has resulted in programs serving only a fraction of the students in need. Currently, two-thirds of programs are struggling with long student waiting lists. With present levels of public funding, less than 10 percent of adults in need are receiving services.  Learn more...

COABE Positions and Actions

March 2016—Action Request

The Reed-Blumenthal letter (HERE) relates directly to an increase in adult education funding. There is a Blumenthal-Gillibrand letter circulating that relates to workforce development and education funding as well (HERE) which we have alerted our field to as many of our members are involved with aspects of workforce development as well. For details on that alert, click here.