WASHINGTON, DC – For millions of Americans, adult education programs can make the difference between earning a family-sustaining wage and struggling to make ends meet. According to the Department of Education, at current funding levels, adult education programs reach less than one million Americans out of 43 million adults that are low-skilled in literacy and 63 million that are low-skilled in numeracy.

In an effort to address the long-standing adult education crisis affecting quality of life for individuals and their families and holding our economy back, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Todd Young (R-IN) today introduced the Adult Education Workforce Opportunity and Reskilling for Knowledge and Success Act, or the Adult Education WORKS Act (S. 3075), to reauthorize adult education programs and expand upon the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). In the House, U.S. Representatives Lucy McBath (D-GA-7) Frank Mrvan (D-IN-1), and Kathy Manning (D-NC-6) are leading introduction of the Adult Education WORKS Act (H.R. 5987).

A study commissioned by the Barbara Bush Foundation estimates that getting all American adults to the equivalent of a sixth-grade reading level would add $2.2 trillion to the country’s annual income. Without the opportunities provided by adult education programs, like numeracy, literacy, digital literacy, English language skills, soft skills, work readiness, high school equivalency, and other wraparound services, many adults will be left on the sidelines of an economy that needs more qualified workers in order to grow.

The Adult Education WORKS Act provides a roadmap for addressing this crisis by updating WIOA and by strengthening and expanding access to adult education services. Specifically, the legislation calls for nearly doubling the authorized funding for adult education by 2029 to $1.35 billion while making significant changes to the adult education system. Critical for achieving success in modern workplaces and for navigating everyday life, the bill calls for a new emphasis on digital and information literacy. Furthermore, the legislation will help to enhance the role of adult education providers by ensuring representation in the workforce planning process, with a focus on college and career navigators in public libraries and community-based organizations.

The Adult Education WORKS Act invests in the professionalization of the adult education field, strengthening state certification policies, encouraging full-time staffing models, and expanding professional development opportunities and career pathways for adult educators. Investments will enhance innovation and provide increased accountability through pilot projects that test new approaches to measuring program performance and outcomes for adult learners.

“When I travel around Rhode Island and ask business owners about challenges they face, more often than not, they tell me how hard it is to find the workers they need. Strengthening adult education programs is the key to unlocking opportunities for people looking to gain new skills and business owners searching for qualified workers and for bolstering America’s workforce and economy,” said Senator Reed. “The Adult Education WORKS Act will help ensure that more Americans can access educational programs that will equip them with in-demand skills to take the opportunities that are available to them.” 

“It’s critical that all Hoosiers have the tools necessary to succeed in the modern economy – and that starts with strengthening adult education,” said Senator Young. “Our bipartisan bill would bolster critical services for adult learners, while also making important updates that ensure participants are prepared for the 21st century workforce.”

“Investing in adult education is an important step in building a sustainable workforce that supports this nation and our economy,” said Rep. McBath (GA-7). “No adult should be left on the sidelines, and the skills available through these programs often mean the difference between a job that supports a family and struggling to make ends meet. The Adult Education WORKS Act will ensure that essential skills will be taught to adult learners nationwide. With so many adults at low literacy and numeracy rates, it is crucial that we provide them an option to gain the skills they need to succeed. I thank my colleagues for their support on this bipartisan bill.”

Rep. Mrvan (IN-1) stated, “I am proud to join Congresswoman McBath and our Senate colleagues in introducing this legislation to expand educational opportunities for adults and improve the ability of all individuals to reach their academic goals.  Let us continue working together in a bicameral and bipartisan fashion to enhance educational and economic opportunities for everyone in our communities.”

“Expanding access to adult learning opportunities that help improve literacy, workforce readiness, and achieve high school equivalency, empower workers to take on jobs with higher, family-sustaining wages,” said Rep. Kathy Manning (NC-6), Chair of the New Democrat Coalition Workforce Development Task Force. “I’m proud to co-lead the Adult Education WORKS Act with my friend and colleague, Rep. McBath, so we can help prepare Americans of all ages to succeed in today’s workforce.”  

The Adult Education WORKS Act would amend Title I and reauthorize Title II of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which was signed into law on July 22, 2014. WIOA was designed to help job seekers access employment, education, training and support services to succeed in the labor market and to match employers with skilled workers they need to compete in the global economy. Congress passed the Act with a wide bipartisan majority and it was the first legislative reform of the public workforce system since 1998.

The legislation is supported by American Library Association (ALA), Coalition for Adult Basic Education (COABE), National Coalition for Literacy (NCL), National Skills Coalition, ProLiteracy, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), and TESOL International Association.

“Jobseekers look to the library for information and services to equip them to compete in an evolving job market and changing economy. Librarians are ready with resources for them to gain the skills they need for better paying jobs and new career opportunities,” said ALA President Emily Drabinski. “ALA is proud to support the Adult Education WORKS Act. A fresh, bipartisan approach to workforce development is what the country needs now, and it’s exactly the kind of legislation that a divided Congress can get behind.”

“The Adult Education WORKS Act would strengthen adult education and fulfill its promise of helping millions of American adults gain the literacy, numeracy and digital and information literacy skills needed for high-demand jobs that pay family-sustaining wages. Each provision is designed to fill gaps in the WIOA system and expand opportunities for adult learners and their families, ensure employers have a pool of skilled workers to fill open jobs and increase our global competitiveness. COABE is greatly appreciative of the Senators’ engagement with the adult education field to develop this bill and is proud to announce its strong support of the bill,” said CEO of COABE, Sharon Bonney.

“The Adult Education WORKS Act will reinforce the fabric of American society by increasing access to education in foundational literacy, numeracy, and digital skills for the millions of adults who need them,” said Executive Director of the National Coalition for Literacy, Deborah Kennedy. “By promoting greater coordination between adult education and workforce development programs, supporting increased professionalization of the adult education field, and providing for college and career navigators who can guide adults in pursuing further education and viable career paths, the Act will build on the proven strengths of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act while expanding access to educational opportunity for a larger proportion of the adults who can benefit from it.”

“TESOL International Association, on behalf of its members who proudly serve the English Language Teaching (ELT) profession, supports Senators Reed and Young’s Adult Education WORKS Act, as it strengthens and expands access to adult education services through WIOA for all adult learners, almost half of whom are English learners seeking to better themselves, their communities, and the nation,” said Jeff Hutcheson, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy for TESOL. “With increased funding, support for the adult education profession, and incorporation of digital and information literacy for adult education, this Act will improve the lives and opportunities for millions of adult learners, one-third of whom are participating in English language acquisition programs.”