COABE Testimony to Address Funding Levels

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The Coalition on Adult Basic Education submits this testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies to address funding levels in the Department of Education for Adult Education and Family Literacy.

The Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE) appreciates the opportunity to submit testimony for the record about the funding level for adult education programs in FY 2019. COABE is a membership organization comprised of more than 55,000 educators, administrators, mentors, and guides working to improve educational outcomes for adults and build strong communities. COABE serves to promote adult education and literacy programs and other state, federal, and private programs that assist undereducated and/or disadvantaged adults to function effectively.

COABE works to unify the profession, develop human resources, encourage teachers and students, promote best practices, and otherwise advance adult education and literacy. We develop and disseminate publications, research, methods, materials, resources, and programs to strengthen the field of adult education and literacy. We conduct and sponsor professional development conferences and webinars.. We work tirelessly to help underserved adults master the skills they need to compete, build careers, and provide better futures for themselves, their families, and their communities.

COABE appreciates the support the Committee demonstrated for Adult Education in the FY 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Act. We respectfully ask that in FY 2019, Adult Education be funded at $664.5 million, the level authorized in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). WIOA recognizes the crucial role adult education plays in teaching English and civics and preparing adults to enter the workforce or improve their employment status. The Act established Adult Education as one of four key partners in a system of education and training that emphasizes greater integration of Adult Education and the workforce system and greater emphasis on college and career readiness. Adult Education is now a key element in a comprehensive system of education and training.  WIOA’s progress in transforming the Adult Education system cannot be attained unless Congress supports it adequately.

Adult Education serves adults, 16 years of age and older, who are no longer enrolled in school or required by State law to be enrolled and who are functioning below the high school completion level. Services include teaching foundation skills in the disciplines of reading, math, and English, coupled with college and career readiness skills that lead to employment or the transition to post-secondary education. Adult Educators also help parents obtain the educational skills necessary to become full partners in the education of their children.

Public schools, community colleges, libraries, and community-based organizations offer programs at the local level.

Providers of Adult Education are accountable for improving the literacy and numeracy skills of their students as measured by regularly-administered standardized assessments, transitioning students to postsecondary education, employment or job training, the attainment of a high diploma or its equivalent, and earnings outcomes. 

Federally funded adult education programs serve only 1.5 million of these adults, down from 2.8 million in 2001.  Enrollment has declined by 44 percent, falling most sharply among those who most need adult education and workforce skills services. Demand for services across the country far exceeds supply.

One in every six adults in the U.S. lacks basic reading skills; that means that more than 35 million people can’t read a job application, understand basic written instructions, or read information on the Internet. One in every three adults in the U.S. cannot use basic arithmetic, work a cash register, read graphs, or understand a transit schedule. According to PIAAC (OECD’s Program of 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.” Other nations show consistent progress in enhancing the education levels of their adult populations. The U.S. is losing ground.

We must invest in adult education because the jobs of the future will require postsecondary education. According to labor market economists at the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, by 2020 65 percent of all jobs in the United States will require some level of postsecondary education or training. The American Action Forum projects that by 2020 the United States will be short an estimated 7.5 million private sector workers across all skill levels.

The Federal investment in Adult Education is cost-effective.  Federal support for Adult Education leverages a significant investment by states.  In FY 2013, each federal dollar invested in AEFLA generated $2.49 in non-Federal matching funds. The Federal cost per participant in FY 2012, the most recent year for which we have data, was $298. The annual Federal cost for each Adult Education student who advanced at least one educational level or who earned a high school diploma or its equivalent was $589.

Adult Education brings businesses options by preparing existing workers with the skills that companies need through flexible classrooms and curriculum. Both urban and rural areas need trained employees. As of 2016, there were 476 counties in the US in which 20 percent or more of the working age population lacked a high school diploma or equivalent. Eighty percent are located in non-metro areas.

Significant underinvestment in adult education and workforce skills development is eroding America’s global competitiveness. A robust adult education system is essential if we are to achieve our nation’s economic goals. It will be impossible to create a workforce skilled enough to compete in the global 21st century economy if we focus only on secondary schools and postsecondary institutions. We must also support adult education. High schools alone cannot provide business and industry with the workers that are needed. Most of America’s workforce of tomorrow is already in today’s workforce. They are beyond the reach of high schools and postsecondary education. A stronger economy will bring people back into the workforce but it won’t train them.

Adult education is the best way to re-engage them.

Low skilled adults are twice as likely to be unemployed, three times as likely to be in poverty, four times as likely to be in poor health, and eight times as likely to be incarcerated. Low education, and skill levels, in adults are fundamental barriers to virtually every major challenge we face including early childhood education, education reform, economic development, and improving the health and well-being of the nation’s families and communities.

By neglecting the adults who need services, we affect their children. A mother’s education level is the greatest determinant of her children’s future academic success, outweighing other factors such as neighborhood or family income. Almost 60 percent of children whose parents don’t have a college education live in low-income families and are less likely to get a good education to qualify for family-sustaining jobs. Mothers and fathers who learn basic skills are better equipped to help their children succeed. Education levels have more effect on earnings over a 40-year span in the workforce than any other demographic factor. Research shows that “better-educated parents raise better-educated, more successful, children who are less likely to end up in poverty or prison.” According to the U.S. Department of Education, individuals who participate in adult education and literacy programs have higher future earnings as a result, and their income differential grows with more intensive participation. Finally, children whose parents are involved with them in family literacy activities score 10 points higher on standardized reading tests.

Low skill levels and under-education are directly linked to inequality, higher rates of unemployment, lower income, crime, poor health, and increased hospitalizations. Adults without a high school diploma are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as high school graduates. They are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults with college degrees. Experts estimate that the U.S. loses more than $225 billion in lost tax revenue, reduced productivity, crime, and poor health because of under-education and low skills. Investing in adult education can improve health outcomes, reduce poverty, and reduce recidivism.

On the other hand, a person with a high school diploma or equivalent earns an average of $9,620 more per year than a non-graduate. Adults with a high school degree were more likely to work full time and average 20percent higher earnings ($30,000) well above the poverty line for a family of four.

Furthermore, the Census Bureau projects that between 2000 and 2015 net international immigration will account for more than half of our nation’s population growth, increasing the demand for adult English language programs to an even greater extent. Without adequate access to English language learning programs we lose the contributions immigrants make to our communities and our economy with their strong work ethic and drive to succeed.

Adult Education is about giving students a hand up by preparing them for college as well as career readiness.  Take the case of Juliana Vrekaj, an asylum seeker from Albania, who received her GED in 2013 from the East Haven, Connecticut Adult Education program.  After marrying and starting a family, Juliana rejoined the East Haven program to take citizenship classes. Today, both Juliana and her husband are American citizens. She received her Associate’s Degree at Gateway Community College in December and will start classes this spring at Southern Connecticut State University where she intends to enter the Teacher’s Program in Mathematics, specializing in elementary education. In the meantime, Juliana and her husband have opened a cellular phone store in East Haven. The Connecticut Association for Adult and Continuing Education (CAACE) named Juliana its Learner of the Year.

When Arturo Flores, 33, was a young man in California, he couldn’t resist the lure of the streets and joined a gang at age 14. He dropped out of school during 8th grade. Between ages 19 and 25, he was in prison five times. Art discovered a new life when he entered Owensboro Regional Recovery in Owensboro, Kentucky, in 2010 and began working toward earning his GED diploma. Although his academic skills were at a 6th-grade level, he didn’t let that deter him and he earned his GED diploma within three months. Art didn’t stop there. He graduated from Owensboro Community and Technical College with an Associate of Arts in May 2014. He’s now a full-time student at Western Kentucky University-Owensboro, where he is working toward earning his bachelor’s in social work. His goal is to earn a master’s in social work to help troubled youth, especially those who are active in gangs, or older citizens who have experienced elder abuse. Art also works full-time at Owensboro Regional Recovery as a “Safe Off the Streets” (SOS) monitor, where he works with men in the first stages of recovery. Art says, “I let them know they don’t have to live like they’ve been living. “When I was a kid, people tried to talk to me, but I didn’t listen because they hadn’t been where I was. I want to let people know there is hope to turn things around. At some point, I believe you’ve got to break the cycle.”

FY 2019 Funding Request:

COABE urges the Committee to fund Title II of the WIOA at the FY 2019 authorized level so that the statute’s ambitious goals can be realized.

Adult education is a gateway to a job and a career for under-educated, low skilled adults. Properly funding the adult education system would yield substantial economic benefits, adding to GDP growth, personal incomes, yielding increased tax revenues and saving on health care and incarceration.

Other nations are boosting the educational levels of their young and working age adults at a faster rate than the U.S. and are showing consistent progress while we are losing ground. We must invest adequately in our adult education system to remain economically competitive globally.

Please contact: Sharon Bonney, Executive Director, at or Gene Sofer, Public Policy Consultant, at: