Grandparents and Adult Education

In many low income communities, grandparents raising children are a critically under appreciated issue. Legislation like this that supports grandparent caregivers makes sense, but as the author points out, it’s just a small piece of the kind of investment needed.

This is another gap issue that those of us involved in adult education policy need to think about as our work becomes increasingly focused on those in the workforce. Some grandparent caregivers in low-income communities have limited literacy skills, and I think it’s safe to assume that a reasonably significant proportion of them are not in the workforce, or going back to it anytime soon, if ever. But wouldn’t parenting classes and mental health programs for this population be more successful if we also increased their literacy skills? Does integrating adult education into parenting classes for those individuals makes sense? If the answer is yes, then what is our strategy for increasing adult education resources for these individuals?

Why Hasn’t Prison Education Led to Better Employment Outcomes in D.C.?

(Updated Below)

According to the Council for Court Excellence (CCE), an estimated 60,000 people in the District of Columbia have criminal records (this is roughly one in every ten persons), and about 8,000 of them return to the city each year after serving their sentences. Unfortunately, half of these individuals will end up back behind bars within three years of getting out.

Reducing recidivism improves public safety and strengthens communities, and is therefore a worthy policy goal. And the research tells us that one of the best ways to accomplish this is to provide inmates with access to education and training while they are in prison.

But it appears that education and training for incarcerated D.C. residents isn’t going to be enough unless we significantly reduce barriers to employment once people are out of prison.

Las year, CCE released a report on the employment challenges facing previously incarcerated D.C. residents after they are released. The report was based on the results of a survey of 550  formerly incarcerated individuals. Among the key findings: there was little or no difference in employment rates for those who earned a GED or job certificate before or after prison and those who did not:

The unemployment rate among survey respondents was about the same after incarceration as it had been prior to incarceration, even among those who used their time in prison productively to increase their skills. Over 30% indicated that they received a GED or higher in prison and 35% indicated receiving a job training certificate of some kind. CCE’s sample showed little or no difference in the unemployment rate for those who had earned a GED or job certificate in or after prison compared with those who had not. (my emphasis)

This finding is at odds with the findings of another recent recidivism study from another jurisdiction, conducted by Jake Cronin, a policy analyst with the Institute of Public Policy in the Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri.

Cronin studied Missouri Department of Corrections data and found that inmates who earned their GED in Missouri prisons were significantly more likely to find a job after release from prison than those who did not.

But Cronin also noted that recidivism rates went down most dramatically for those inmates had earned a GED and acquired a full-time job after release.

“Employment proves to be the strongest predictor of not returning to prison that we found,” Cronin said. “Those who have a full-time job are much less likely to return to prison than similar inmates who are unemployed. Recidivism rates were nearly cut in half for former inmates with a full-time job compared to similar inmates who are unemployed.”

It makes sense to me that education plus sustained employment has the most lasting impact on reducing recidivism. But in Missouri, at least, attaining an educational credential appears to increase the likelihood of employment, whereas in Washington it may have no effect at all. So the question is whether there are other significant barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated individuals here in the District—other than education—that may not be as prominent in Missouri. And if there are, what do we do about them?

I’ll concede that the biggest barrier to employment for many people these days is the lack of jobs to begin with. I’ll also concede that part of the problem may be that the jobs that do become available in the District may, on average, require more specialized training or post-secondary education than the jobs that are available in Missouri. (I don’t know that for certain, but it seems reasonable.) Nonetheless, there are also policies that can be put in place to make it easier for those returning from prison to find a job, and to encourage employers to hire them.

For their part, the Council for Court Excellence (CCE) believes that barriers to employment unrelated to education do exist, and in their report, they made several recommendations to address them, including, among other things, liability protection for employers and a “certificate of good standing” indicating that an individual has completed his or her sentence and is in good standing with conditions of release.

These two recommendations are the centerpiece of recent bill, the D.C. Re-entry Facilitation Amendment Act, introduced by D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson on July 10th.

UPDATE 9/27/12: My original headline (Why Hasn’t Prison Education Reduced D.C. Recidivism Rates?) was all wrong—I was making a point about employment outcomes, not recidivism rates—and was updated accordingly.

School Librarians and Literacy

According to this article published in The Huffington Post last week, 58 of 124 D.C. pubic schools are losing their librarians this school year—up from 34 last year. The article begins by describing the accomplishments of one of the school librarians who will not be back:

When Marla McGuire was hired as a librarian at Cleveland Elementary School in the District of Columbia some four years ago, she was first librarian at the school in eight years. McGuire worked to raise $50,000 for new materials, collaborated with other teachers to create an outdoor classroom and encouraged parents to read with their children.

“I really tried to embed myself in the school community,” McGuire told The Huffington Post. “I wanted to focus on a love of learning and really get a spark going.”

Soon, children who came to her knowing nothing about libraries — a student once asked her timidly how much it might cost to “rent” a book from the school’s collection — got excited about reading, she says.

I particularly want to draw your attention to the last sentence in the first paragraph, where we learn that one of Ms McGuire’s accomplishments was that she “encouraged parents to read with their children.”

I think this story demonstrates that as a city, (and it’s not just this city that has this problem) we aren’t really thinking through what resources need to be in place in order to improve literacy rates. I don’t know how many kids developed a reading habit as a result of Ms McGuire’s efforts, or how many parents started reading to their children as a result of her encouragement, (and maybe we need to figure out how to document this better), but even if we’re talking about just a handful of families, it seems to me that as a matter of policy her position was probably a good investment.

What Would Sequestration Mean for the District of Columbia’s Most Vulnerable Residents?

Yesterday one of our local public radio stations here in the District (WAMU) broadcast a story on the potential local impact of sequestration, the across-the-board federal spending cuts that are set to go into effect in January—unless Congress passes some kind of legislation to avoid it. Right now these cuts are required by a law that this same Congress passed last summer, the Budget Control Act (BCA).

Stephen Fuller, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis, told WAMU that federal spending accounts for roughly 40% of the D.C. metro area’s economy. Federal employees and contractors spend their paychecks here, and so businesses that rely on those dollars (and the housing market) are likely to suffer if that spending is cut back significantly:

“Federal payroll supports a lot of jobs at Giant and Safeway and CVS and other retail establishments,” he says, citing some examples. “There will be fewer high-income households that can afford big houses.  So we could see a rollback on housing values.”

In D.C. itself, the District’s chief financial officer, Natwar Gandhi, told WAMU that federal spending accounts for 60% (!) of the city’s annual economic output. He said that cuts to federal spending would likely result in reduced local tax revenue, which could lead to reductions in services for the city’s most vulnerable residents.

(Fun fact: the legislation that created sequestration was enacted by a Congress in which we do not have a vote, yet it sound like the pain associated with these cuts will likely be more painful here in this city than it will be in other parts of the country.)

Alternatives to sequestration may still include federal workforce reductions and pay freezes, so even if sequestration is scrapped, it’s replacement might not be so great for the local economy either. I recently attended a meeting with some Republican staffers who were still enthusiastically pitching S. 2065, a Senate bill that was introduced in February that would delay the first installment of the sequestration cuts by extending the current federal employee pay freeze though June 2014, and restricting federal hiring to only two employees for every three who leave. While I don’t think this specific bill is going anywhere at the moment, elements of this proposal could make their way into a sequestration-scrapping plan somewhere down the road.

Fuller told WAMU that federal contracting “has been a welfare program for the Washington metropolitan area. Taxpayers around the country send us their money, and we’ve been living well off of this, and now we have to face the music.” Sequestration alternatives that protect this long-standing corporate welfare program via reductions in federal hiring and pay freezes will likely have the same kind of depressive effects on the local economy as the across-the-board cuts required by sequestration.