Reed Reintroduces Bipartisan Legislation to Strengthen Adult Education Programs
REED. Madam President, we have a longstanding adult literacy crisis that affects the quality of life for individuals and families and holds our economy back. It is time for a major expansion of adult education. Today, I am proud to introduce bipartisan legislation--the Adult Education Workforce Opportunity and Reskilling for Knowledge and Success Act, or the Adult Education WORKS Act--with my colleague Senator Young.
Adult education provides numeracy, literacy, digital literacy, English language skills, work readiness, soft skills, high school equivalency, and numerous wraparound services to millions of adult learners nationwide. These essential skills can make the difference between earning a family-sustaining wage and struggling to make ends meet. A study commissioned by the Barbara Bush Foundation estimated that getting all U.S. adults to the equivalent of a sixth-grade reading level would generate an additional $2.2 trillion in annual income for the country. Without the opportunities provided through adult education programs, many adults will be left on the sidelines.
Estimates from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, PIACC, indicate that 43 million adults are low-skilled in literacy and 63 million are low-skilled in numeracy. Building a sustainable economy that truly works for everyone is going to require helping these individuals acquire the basic skills they need to succeed. Unfortunately, we are reaching only a fraction of these individuals today. PIACC data show that 23 to 30 percent of working-age adults with low literacy or numeracy skills wanted to participate in adult education but were unable to do so. The Department of Education calculates that this means there are up to 16 million adults seeking education opportunities from programs that currently serve fewer than 1 million individuals.
In my home State of Rhode Island, there are over 61,000 adults who could benefit from English language instruction and over 64,000 working-age adults without a high school credential. Yet, under current funding levels, the adult education program serves just over 4,500 individuals.
The Adult Education WORKS Act provides a roadmap for addressing this crisis. It calls for increased resources, doubling funding for adult education by 2029. At the same time, it makes significant improvements to the adult education system. It calls for a new emphasis on digital and information literacy, which are essential for success in the workplace and in navigating everyday life. It enhances the role of adult education providers, with a special focus on public libraries and community-based organizations throughout the workforce development system, ensuring coordination and efficient use of resources. It 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. It provides support for college and career navigators in public libraries and community-based organizations to support adult learners where they live. Finally, it invests in innovation and accountability through pilot projects that test new approaches for measuring program performance and learner outcomes.
In developing this legislation, Senator Young and I worked closely with key stakeholders, working on the frontlines in the adult education community. I am pleased to count the American Library Association, the Center for Law and Social Policy, the Coalition on Adult Basic Education, the National Coalition for Literacy, National Skills Coalition, ProLiteracy, and TESOL among the supporters of this legislation.
I urge my colleagues to cosponsor this legislation and work with us to ensure it is part of any legislation to reauthorize the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.