Walter’s Corner: Will You Ask the Council to Invest in Adult Literacy?

The District has gotten serious about preparing residents for jobs. It’s invested in new initiatives from a community college to a workforce intermediary. Yet over 80,000 adults living in D.C. lack the basic literacy skills necessary to succeed in training, higher education, and the job market. That’s why DC Appleseed is urging the D.C. Council to increase funding for adult literacy in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014.


As we testified last week, we support a $4 million proposal by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to help 1,000 residents get a GED or alternative high school diploma and continue on to postsecondary education. There are two reasons why it’s critical for the District to invest in this program now.


First, in just five years, 71 percent of all jobs in D.C. will require some postsecondary training beyond a high school education. Without a GED or the alternative national external diploma, the tens of thousands of adults who lack a high school degree risk being left out of our city’s economic growth.


Second, both the GED and the national external diploma program will undergo major changes in FY 2014, which we testified about on March 15. Both tests will become computerized, and both will change their content to align with more academically rigorous standards. Without sufficient preparation, fewer residents will succeed in earning a high school equivalency. We are confident that OSSE’s proposed program can prepare residents for these tests because they piloted it in 2012 with success.


This proposed investment in adult literacy would leverage the District’s other investments in education and jobs—a point we discussed Wednesday on WPFW Pacifica Radio. While an additional $4 million would nearly double OSSE’s budget for adult and family literacy, it is a relatively small investment that could be leveraged several times over. In addition to helping residents succeed in job training, higher education, and work, adult literacy will also help these residents’ children succeed in school. Parents with strong literacy skills are better positioned to help their children study and succeed at school. In fact, young adults whose parents have a high school diploma are more likely to complete high school themselves than those whose parents do not.


Just as importantly, adult education can help break the cycle of generational poverty. One of every three D.C. residents without a high school degree lives in poverty. Research has shown that more than other factors, parents’ education affects whether children born into poverty stay poor. And reducing poverty will benefit all of our city’s residents by increasing the tax base while decreasing public spending on social services.


The D.C. Council Committee on Education will meet Thursday, May 9 to decide whether to recommend funding OSSE’s $4 million adult literacy proposal. If you agree that investing in adult literacy should be a priority, we urge you to join hundreds of others in signing this petition asking the Council to fully fund the OSSE’s $4 million Pathways to Adult Literacy Fund.

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