I generally don’t have the time or inclination to post updates on legislative action with any kind of consistency—choosing instead to pick and choose, looking for spots where I think I might have a unique and/or possibly even interesting take on something. Presumably, loyal readers of this site have other, more reliable sources for regular legislative updates. But since I’ve written a lot about the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (now retitled, with more modern-sounding buzzwords, as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, or WIOA)—most recently here—I thought I should mention that the WIOA bill which passed the Senate last month is scheduled for a vote in the House on Wednesday or Thursday of this week. The House is considering WIOA under a fast-track process known as suspension of the rules: no more than 40 minutes of debate, and no amendments will be offered. However, two-thirds of members will have to vote for the bill for it to pass.

This is not that unusual a move—it usually means that the House leadership is confident that the bill has the votes and time for lengthy debate/opportunity for amendment is not needed.

In talking with people in the adult education field, I’ve found that the level of interest/knowledge/excitement over WIOA tends to be lower than it is among policy people in Washington, D.C. I’d be interested to hear what folks on the ground in adult education (teachers, program directors, students) think the new bill will do for them.

What the President’s FY 2015 Budget Proposes for Adult Education

(Updated Below)

Earlier this month I was in Massachusetts co-leading a presentation on federal adult education policy. (I’m doing another of these in Maryland in May, and that may be it for a while, due to a recent job switch). My part of the session looked at the current state of federal funding for adult education.

A big chunk of that discussion concerned the President’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal, and since the Secretary of Education will be taking questions before committees in both the House and the Senate this week on that proposal, I figured now was a good time to post my long-promised summary of that proposal as it relates to adult education (most of what I have to say about FY 2014 has already been posted previously on this site—here and here, for example).

In my view, there are three major points to be made about the President’s proposal as it pertains to adult education:

1. It Contains NO Increase to State Formula Grant Funding

For the first time in a long time since his FY 2013 budget, the President declined to propose any increase to the budget for WIA Title II/AEFLA Adult Education State Grants from the year before. (These are grants that states use to fund adult education programs.) The administration’s decision not to propose an increase is significant because last year’s final FY 2014 appropriation extended a significant reduction in funding for this line item: sequestration had already cut it down to $563,955,000 for FY 2103, and for FY 2014, Congress decided not to restore any of that funding in the Bipartisan Budget Act.

Last year, for FY 2014, the President had proposed $594,993,000 for Adult Education State Grants, which would have restored funding to the FY 2012 level, before sequestration cuts went in to effect. But for FY 2015, the President decided to leave the line item at its sequestered level of $563,955,000.

As usual, a portion of this funding would continue to be set-aside specifically for English Literacy/Civics Education State Grants ($70.8 million in this case)—a set-aside not included in the WIA authorizing language, but one that has been approved by appropriators for many years.

2. It Contains a Major Increase to National Leadership Activities to Support a New Competitive Grant Program

Adult education was not entirely passed over when Congress restored some of the sequestered funds lost in FY 2013. The Adult Education National Leadership line item actually got a bump, from $10,712,000 to $13,712,000.

For FY 2015, the President proposes an increase to this line item by another $20 million, in order to support a new “Skills Challenge” grant program, which is supposed to support partnerships among states, adult education providers, institutions of higher education, and private organizations to “develop and scale up evidence-based models that combine basic skills education with training so that participants have access to high-quality programs that equip them with the skills necessary to find jobs in high-demand fields or transition into credit-bearing postsecondary education and training” and “build evidence of effective practices through rigorous evaluations.”

Essentially, instead of proposing an increase to formula funding to all states to support local programs (which due to budget cuts and inflation serves about half as many adult learners as it did about a decade ago), the President is suggesting an increase for (in effect)  some states/programs via competitive grant funding.

It’s worth noting that even if you assume that a significant chunk of this funding would support direct services, it would (a) be unequally distributed across the states (that’s inherent to a competitive grant program); and (b) not make up for the roughly $31 million that’s been lost for direct services since FY 2012. In other words, it puts back only $20 million of the $31 million that was lost to the overall adult education budget due to sequestration, and puts it into a new competitive grant program, instead of restoring formula funding.

The case for this new competitive program in lieu of new formula funding seems to boil down to the argument that successful models developed under such a program will inspire  increased support for baseline formula funding in the future. Will this work? New innovations certainly could spur Congress into appropriating more funds for adult education in future years, although fiscal belt-tightening across all federal programs is a more likely scenario in the coming years. On the other hand, it’s not as difficult to imagine consortiums formed under such a program inspiring deeper, long-term investments at the state and local level.

Here’s a chart that shows the President’s budget proposals for AEFLA and Congress’s actual appropriation over the last four years (click on it to see it full-size):

Annual Expenditures for WIA Title II

3. It Calls for Partial Restoration of Pell Grant Eligibility for Those Without a High School Diploma (aka “Ability to Benefit)

The key word above is partial.

A little background is in order here. Back in 2011, Congress decided to eliminate a long-standing policy that enabled thousands of low-income students to attend college via Pell grants without first having obtained a high school diploma, provided that they passed an independently administered test or successfully completing six college credits—either of which were deemed sufficient demonstration of an “ability to benefit” (known as ATB) from a college education. The President’s budget proposes reinstating ATB eligibility for Pell Grants, but only for adult students who are dually-enrolled in adult education and postsecondary education as part of an approved career pathway to work. This proposal, which mirrors appropriations language that has been floating around the Senate since ATB eligibility was eliminated, is a much narrower eligibility definition than prior policy.

Note that the return of ATB under this scenario represents a shift in the way in which a student is deemed to be fit for financial aid. Under the old rules, eligibility was determined by the student demonstrating a certain minimal level of academic aptitude. Under the “new” version of ATB, eligibility would also require that the student be enrolled in a certain approved course of study, i.e. an “approved” career pathway program.

At least one group seems to believe that the return of ATB is intended to be narrowly tailored to support the I-BEST program in Washington State. See: NAICU Washington Update: President Sends Budget to Congress Kicking off FY 2015 Budgeting Process: “Ability to Benefit (ATB): Reinstates ATB eligibility for Pell Grants only for adult students who are dually-enrolled in adult education and postsecondary education as part of an approved career pathway to work. This was proposed by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) in the appropriations process last year, and reflects a specific community college program in Washington State.” (my emphasis)

Whatever the reason, if you are a student who other wise would have been eligible for ATB eligibility under the prior laws but don’t have access to a career pathways program that meets federal government approval, you are out of luck under the President’s proposal.

In March, Representatives Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) sponsored a sign-on letter requesting full reinstatement of Pell Grant and federal student aid eligibility for Ability to Benefit (ATB) students.

What’s Next

The FY 2015 appropriations process is now underway, with the House and Senate Appropriations Committees holding oversight hearings on the President’s request. (As I noted above, Secretary Duncan will be testifying on it this week.) The President’s proposal stands no chance of being enacted, but does lay out the Administration’s priorities and set some of the discussion points for the budget and appropriations process.

For adult education, the President’s proposal for National Leadership “challenge grants” is probably the least likely piece to get through. The Pell modification probably has the best chance.

Advocates in the House have expressed concerns over the adult education budget. Representatives Phil Roe (R-TN) and Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), co-chairs of the House Adult Literacy Caucus, have circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter requesting the chairs of the Labor-HHS-Education to provide “adequate funding” for Adult Basic Education in FY 2015. (I can’t find a link to the final letter at the moment—the link above is the letter that went out to members for their signature.)



I found language about the President’s proposal to semi-restore ability-to-benefit in three of the budget justification documents, for those who are curious:

Education Overview (Page 71) “…the Administration will provide Pell Grant eligibility to students who are co-enrolled in adult and postsecondary education as part of a career pathway program to allow adults with-out a high school diploma to gain the knowledge and skills they need to secure a good job.”

Justifications of Appropriation Estimates: Student Financial Assistance  (Page Q-17) “The 2015 Budget proposes to make two small, but important, reforms to the Pell Grant program. The first reform strengthens academic progress requirements in the Pell Grant program, to encourage students to complete their studies on time. Second, it would reinstate the Ability to Benefit provision for students enrolled in eligible career pathways programs, enabling adults without a high school diploma to gain the knowledge and skills they need to secure a good job.”

Justifications of Appropriation Estimates: Student Aid Overview  (Page P-4) “The Budget proposes to make two small reforms to the Pell Grant program. First, it will strengthen academic progress requirements in the Pell Grant program in order to encourage students to complete their studies on time. Second, it would reinstate the Ability to Benefit provision for students enrolled in eligible career pathways programs, which will allow adults without a high school diploma to gain the knowledge and skills they need to secure a good job.”


UPDATE 4/29/14: Added a chart to hopefully make the discussion above a bit more comprehensible.

Also, a video archive of Sec. Duncan’s testimony this morning before the House Education and Workforce Committee is now available. I haven’t had time to watch it (if you have, feel free to comment below), but reportedly the Secretary noted during his testimony the administration’s support for reinstating ability-to-benefit Pell Grant eligibility for students who are enrolled in career pathway programs.

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.

Federal Adult Education Funding: Updated Table/Chart

I recently updated a chart I made back in May of 2013 showing AEFLA (i.e. WIA Title II) spending over time since 2002, in both nominal amounts and inflation-adjusted dollars. The reason for the update? We now have final CPI figures for 2013. The result isn’t much different from my original, which used the rate of inflation as of April 2013, but I thought it was important to update the chart with the final 2013 figures.

The bottom line is pretty much exactly why I estimated back in May: in terms of real dollars, the federal investment in adult education has dropped by nearly 23% since 2002.

AEFLA Spending 2002-2013 - Inflation Adjustments

(Click on the chart for a larger, less fuzzy version.)

As I noted when I put this together in May, for FY 2010, I did not include the one-time adjustment made by the Department of Education to make up for several years of underpayment to some states—that anomaly wasn’t carried over and shouldn’t be interpreted as growth.