Something practically unheard of happened in Philadelphia recently: the city reinstated its adult education initiatives after the mayor’s office closed the Office of Adult Education and eliminated funding in 2020.
That’s right. It brought adult education back after complete abandonment.
This is huge for the city of Philadelphia, and it shows on a large scale how important adult education is to the success of a city or community.
It’s not all that common for a city to have and fund a dedicated office devoted to adult education. A Google search brings up the New York City Mayor’s Office for Adult Education and also the Houston Mayor’s Office for Adult Literacy, which has gained traction and visibility in the past few years. In Philadelphia, under Mayor Jim Kenney, the Mayor’s Commission on Literacy was changed to the Office of Adult Education.
Since 1983, the Mayor’s Commission on Literacy and later the Office of Adult education worked to provide support for literacy and workforce development programs around the city to ensure all learners—from basic literacy to English as a second language to high school equivalency—had quality education programs available to them.
So, it was a crushing blow to the adult education community when, amid budget cuts as a result of COVID-19, Kenney eliminated any funding for the Office of Adult Education.
There were likely many who thought that was the end. Adult literacy programs across the city would be left in the lurch to figure out how to survive without the support from the city government. And there were many who were not happy about it. But, 2020 wasn’t normal in any way.
Events across the country drew attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion—issues that education plays a vital role in addressing. In addition, in the wake of the pandemic, adults without a high school diploma suffered the highest unemployment rate compared to any other education level. These two things alone very visibly made the case for supporting adult education, not to mention all the other benefits we are aware of, including family literacy, lower recidivism, English language learning, and citizenship preparation.
The Philadelphia Adult Literacy Alliance and its network started citywide advocacy efforts to urge lawmakers for a return of funding, and as it gained support, the city started to rethink its decision. The City of Philadelphia Office of Children and Families was formed, which will encompass the city’s adult literacy and education services.
The city commissioned an independent study, “A Reimagined Vision for Adult Education Services through the City of Philadelphia,” to identify Philadelphia’s needs. The study was funded through a grant to ProLiteracy and conducted by Alisa Belzer, Ph.D., Rutgers University; Carol Clymer, Ed.D., Pennsylvania State University; and Rebecca Reumann-Moore, Ph.D., an independent consultant. This report will inform the Office of Children and Families on how to best implement and coordinate adult education services across the city.
On a local level, the reinstatement of funding to support adult education in Philadelphia is huge. The Office of Children and Families will ensure that adults are receiving the services they need to improve their skills and find and maintain jobs, which is more important than ever as we emerge from the recession caused by COVID-19.
On a state level, the Pennsylvania Association of Adult Continuing Education (PAACE) is building on the momentum coming from Philadelphia. The PAACE Policy and Advocacy Committee has lobbied to get bipartisan support for a Recovery Fund for Adult Education. This legislation proposes that a portion of the state’s federal recovery money be invested in adult education, digital literacy, and workforce development across Pennsylvania.
We will wait to see what happens with the proposed legislation. Any statewide investment in adult education is a win for the field, and ProLiteracy hopes more states and cities follow this lead.