Adult education advocates bring their voices to Capitol Hill

The Covid-19 pandemic may still be causing adult educators to maintain a safe social distance, but hundreds of them nevertheless have made their voices heard on Capitol Hill. Nearly 600 educators from across the country registered for a recent virtual forum co-hosted by National Skills Coalition, the National Coalition for Literacy (NCL), and the Coalition for Adult Basic Education (COABE).

The forum, a part of NSC’s #SkillstoRecover series, included updates on federal policy, opportunities for adult educators to take action during the event, and numerous opportunities for educators to share their reflections on the policy barriers and other issues facing adult learners in the present moment.

Watch the entire forum on National Skills Coalition’s Youtube channel here.


Preparing to advocate: Organizational resources and advocacy maps

NSC National Network Manager Jessica Cardott and Senior Fellow Amanda Bergson-Shilcock opened the forum by providing an overview of the event and an introduction to National Skills Coalition’s organizational mission and diverse membership.

Next, Sharon Bonney, CEO of COABE, highlighted her organization’s commitment to federal investment in adult education. COABE’s Educate and Elevate campaign has continued to drive adult educators’ engagement with Congress during the pandemic, including through a themed event known as Advocacy April.

Sharon shared findings from COABE’s recent survey of 1400 adult educators, many of whom reported on the impact of the Covid pandemic on their programs and services. In addition to increased costs and a transition to online learning, some program administrators have reported an uptick in student enrollment, as adult learners seek out services to help themselves build skills during the pandemic.

COABE itself has transitioned to providing numerous professional development opportunities online, with more than a dozen webinars this spring as well as a huge slate of workshops on tap for its upcoming virtual conference. (National Skills Coalition staff will be presenting two sessions at COABE’s conference, one focusing on racial equity and the other on digital literacy.)

Following Sharon’s remarks, Deborah Kennedy, President of the National Coalition for Literacy, explained her agency’s role as an umbrella organization that incorporates adult education advocates from a variety of different backgrounds.

Deborah shared three data sources that adult educators can use when advocating for adult education:

Deborah drew attention to the overlap among the three maps, emphasizing that many adult learners who have low literacy are also located in areas that lack broadband, and are more likely to be under-counted in the Census, leading to fewer federal resources being allocated to their communities.


Update from Capitol Hill: What Congress has (not) been doing

NSC Director of Government Relations Katie Spiker highlighted key developments in Congress’s action on Covid-relief legislation. There was disappointingly little investment in workforce – and no dedicated investment in adult education – in the $2 trillion March 2020 CARES Act bill passed by Congress. The May 2020 HEROES Act, which has passed the House only and is not expected to be taken up in the Senate, similarly contained very limited investment in workforce and no dedicated funds for adult education.

Prior to the passage of the HEROES Act, 49 House Democrats had sent a letter to Congressional leadership proposing a $15 billion investment in workers, including $1 billion for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title II adult education services. More than 700 NSC members, including numerous adult educators, signed on to a letter spearheaded by the Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce encouraging this level of investment.

Katie emphasized that in recent weeks racial equity issues have gained a higher profile on the Hill, and encouraged adult educators to connect the dots in their advocacy to help Congressional staff understand how investing in adult education can help improve equity.


Taking action: Immediate steps

Katie also explained that there are two important opportunities right now for adult educators to weigh in with Congress: To inform the next Covid stimulus package, and to inform the FY2021 appropriations process.

Forum attendees were invited to take action immediately, by sending a tweet or e-mail during the event. NSC’s Jessica Cardott shared a sample tweet that advocates could use to tweet at their Senators to encourage investment in adult education as part of the next Covid relief bill.

Jessica also shared a link to COABE’s action-taking tool, which provides a pre-populated letter endorsed by NSC, COABE, and NCL for adult educators to send to their Congressional representatives in support of adult education funding.


Reflections from adult educators: Input from the field

Advocates also had opportunities to share their own expertise during the forum. Jessica asked forum attendees to weigh in on two questions: What is a policy barrier that is affecting your ability to serve adult learners at this moment? And: What issues is the adult education field facing that Congress is not talking about?

Dozens of attendees submitted responses and reflections using the chat box. Digital inclusion issues were at the forefront of concerns for many educators, who shared stories about how their students and staff faced had faced challenges in recent weeks as part of the pandemic-driven shift to online classes. Educators emphasized that all three elements of digital inclusion — home broadband internet access, device access, and digital skills – were significant issues.

National Skills Coalition has recently released a major report on digital literacy, as well as numerous associated fact sheets and other resources. NSC will continue to advocate for greater investment in digital literacy as a key component of adult education and workforce development policies.

The forum concluded with a robust Q&A session, with panelists responding to numerous questions and comments from attendees about the outlook, strategy, and tactics needed to win greater federal investment in adult education.

Watch the skills blog for more on our #SkillstoRecover series!