On May 26, ProLiteracy sponsored and attended a special Presidential Forum in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Committee for Education Funding (CEF). The event was also streamed live nationally on CEF’s website.
The forum featured high-level policy representatives from the presidential campaigns discussing the candidates’ education policy platforms. It was hosted by Candy Crowley, former news anchor and chief political consultant for CNN. Ann O’Leary, senior policy advisor for Hillary Clinton, and Donni Turner, policy advisor for Bernie Sanders, fielded questions from Crowley and audience members on various aspects of education—from K-12 to higher education. The forum included a second panel discussion featuring education professionals with varying perspectives on the need for federal investment in education.
While CEF contacted several of Donald Trump’s highest campaign officials multiple times, unfortunately, a representative from Trump’s campaign was not in attendance.
As most adult educators know, the main theme of these types of education forums is often K-12. ProLiteracy’s objective in sponsoring and participating in this important event was to shed much-needed light on adult literacy and the need for more legislation and funding to support efforts to help adults.
Attending from ProLiteracy were myself, Michele Diecuch, director of programs; and Peter Waite, senior vice president; as well as representatives from three ProLiteracy member programs in the D.C. area. Lecester Johnson, executive director of Academy of Hope in Washington, D.C., posed a poignant question about adult literacy, asking panelists to consider the needs of adults at the lowest literacy levels—those who are on a longer learning trajectory and not yet eligible for workforce programs. Although not surprising, it was clear that panelists had only a perfunctory knowledge of the adult literacy problem in the United States—an issue that impacts 36 million adults who cannot read above a third-grade reading level.
In the current Congress, despite passage of the Workforce Investment and Innovation Act (WIOA) in 2014, public funding for adult education has declined over the last 15 years. Yet the United States ranks in the bottom third compared to 23 similar countries worldwide. ProLiteracy, its members, and advocates need to continue to elevate adult literacy as an issue that is so closely linked to many other socio-economic issues. Why focus on adult literacy? The answer is simple—the greatest indicator of a child’s success in education is his/her parents’ literacy level.
ProLiteracy’s participation in this Presidential Forum on Education was crucial. We were able to inform panelists and audience participants about the breadth of the adult literacy problem in the United States. In addition, as a follow-up to this event, we will be reaching out directly to representatives of the presidential candidates.
On behalf of its 1,000-program member network, ProLiteracy must to continue to participate in events that raise awareness with education professionals, presidential candidates, politicians at all levels, and even the business sector. We will continue these advocacy efforts until funding for adult education is increased and more of the 36 million receive the assistance needed to change their lives and the futures of their children.
See a recording of the stream below. Jump to 1:33:46 to hear the representatives answer a question from Lecester Johnson.