Summary of Fiscal Year 2015 Funding Proposals for Adult Education

The National Coalition for Literacy (NCL) recently sent a sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to approve an FY 2015 omnibus appropriations bill before the end of the calendar year, including an increase in funding for adult education to at least the $609 million level proposed in the Labor-HHS-Education bill released by Representative Rosa DeLauro in September. (Full disclosure: I am the current President of NCL.)

While working with NCL members to put together our recommendation, I needed to pull together all the recent proposals for federal adult education funding for FY 2015, including the President’s original budget request, the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Reported Bill, the House Democrats’ Labor-HHS-Education bill, as well as the figures authorized by the new WIOA legislation. Rather than just file that away, I thought I would share it here, in case it might be useful to others.

Adult Education Recent Federal Funding

Note that the House Democrats’ proposal is probably the high-water mark for potential adult education funding in FY 2015. It’s also worth noting that there is increasing concern that an omnibus bill will be blocked by Tea Party Republicans upset with President Obama’s imminent executive action on immigration. It’s really unclear to me what is going to happen with the FY 2015 federal budget. If I had to guess, I’d put my money on a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) that punts the decision into January and the newly elected Congress.


A Fundamental Difference

(Updated Below)

A fundamental difference between the publicly funded adult education system in this country (to the extent that a true “system” exists) and K-12 is that the adult education system doesn’t even come close to providing the funds needed to serve all of those who would like to be served (currently estimated to be around 3 million people), let alone the total number of people who in fact may need such services, which could be as high as 36 million people, according to the latest guess estimate front the PIAAC survey. Government-funded adult education serves only about 1.7 million and that number has dropped by almost a million over the last decade.

In other words, we don’t even attempt to fully fund an adult education system in this country. I know that many K-12 school systems are cash-strapped, and thus would undoubtedly argue that they are not in fact, “fully funded,” but at least it’s generally understood that there has to be a baseline amount of funding available to provide a seat for every school-age child. Not the case in adult education. A similar problem has existed in pre-K, although now there are calls for “universal” pre-K that also seem to be premised on the assumption that every child of pre-school age should have access to services. There has never been no call for “universal adult education” (although perhaps there should be).

Thus in adult education it’s trickier to balance the need for innovation and new ideas (which adult education certainly does need) with the reality that we’ve yet to fully fund the basic infrastructure that we need in order for new models and innovations to take root and grow. Imagine a K-12 system where we only had enough schools and teachers to educate two-fifths of our school-age kids. Would our first priority be to design new models, or would it be on building more schools and hiring more teachers? I think unquestionably it would be the latter.

I’m willing to concede that we need to be more strategic and innovative in order to create more learning opportunities for low-skilled adults, but it’s also important not to kid ourselves: the reason we are serving far fewer students than a decade ago is not because we don’t have enough models, but because we’re not investing enough in the basic infrastructure (classroom, computers, teachers, etc.) to serve them.

Lately I’ve been working on the premise that the development of new innovations (especially with regard to technology) could actually spur more investment in the basic infrastructure pieces, but, at the same time, it’s also hard to imagine anyone taking primarily responsibility for funding the basic infrastructure outside of the public sector. I think it’s important to talk about how/whether new innovation in this field actually gets the public sector spending we need moving in the right direction.

UPDATE 3/13/14: I mentioned above that to date there has been no call for “universal adult education,” but there is something close to that beginning to take shape as more states explore the possibility of providing free community college education to all students. This article in Stateline from yesterday refers to these efforts collectively as the “college-for-all movement.”

Adult Education Funding in 2014: Why an increase Isn’t an Increase

(Updated Below)

I was talking to someone last Friday who was a bit confused by this post—specifically, by what I’m counting when measuring the federal investment in adult education—and I thought a followup post might be helpful to others who might be confused as well.

Again, to start with, I’m looking at WIA Title II/AEFLA only. That is by far the biggest source of adult basic education/literacy funding in the federal budget. (In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s the only line item you’ll see in the federal budget where adult literacy is mentioned.)

The U.S. Department of Education produces a lot of different tables and charts related to the programs that they fund. Sometimes it takes a little work to figure these out—and that work is made much harder if you are not familiar with the programs in question.

For example, this set of tables, last updated on January 23rd of this year, is the latest Department compilation of funding levels for each program it funds, based on the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 (where one will find the final appropriation amounts set by Congress for FY 2014).

The question posed to me last week was why my chart shows I’ve been claiming no change in WIA Title II funding from FY 2013 to FY 2014. Apparently the Department of Education claims there was an increase of about $3 million. Which is technically true if you look at the entire subtotal for adult education (see chart below), but that’s not the number you want to look at when trying to figure out how much the federal government is investing adult education programs. My chart is looking specifically at the line item for adult education state grants, which is where all the money for local programs actually comes from. The other line item that makes up the aggregate subtotal for WIA Title II/AEFLA funding is national leadership activities—money used by the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) for a variety of national projects: standards development, curriculum material, research, etc. It’s conceivable that some of this money may find it’s way into the hands of local programs (for a demonstration project, for example), but it is not by definition money that is used to support local program services. So for the purposes of tracking federal adult education funding that actual goes to programs, I track the state grant program, which is where that money comes from.

You can see in the Department’s chart below that, yes, the total line time for adult education did in fact rise by $3 million, from $574,667,000 in FY 2013 to $577,667,000 in FY 2014. But the key number is in the second to last column, under the line item “Adult basic and literacy education State grants,” which as you can see shows an increase of exactly zero between FY 2013 and FY 2014. The increase in funding for adult education in FY 2014 was entirely allocated to OCTAE for national leadership activities.

(Click on the graphic to see it full size.)


One other possible source of confusion: in the tables above, the Department simply lists “Adult basic and literacy education State grants” without noting that a certain percentage is set aside specifically for states to fund ESL/civics programs. Which makes sense, as this is not a separate program but a set-aside. Sometimes, however, the Department breaks that out in their tables. for example, in their “State History Tables by Program tables. here, there are two tables you need to look for in order to get the total for the state grant program for each year: “Adult Basic and Literacy Education State Grants” and the table that follows, “English Literacy and Civics Education State Grants (Excluded from Adult Basic and Literacy Education State Grants)”

You have to add up the totals in each of those tables to get the aggregate total for state grants for that year.

UPDATE 3/10/14: Ugh. I hate having to make a clarifying correction to a post that was in part meant as a clarification to begin with. In the 5th paragraph above, I mistakenly implied that my inflation chart included the FY 2014 appropriation. It doesn’t. It stops at 2013. The question referenced the chart in relation to a point I had made somewhere else (Twitter?) about the FY 2014 appropriation not including an increase for AEFLA state grants.

None of that has anything to do with the substance of my post, but it might have been confusing to anyone you clicked on the link to the chart looking for the FY 2014 appropriation. More on the FY 2014 appropriation here.