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State Legislators Gathered in Philadelphia to Examine Adult Literacy and Workforce Readiness Across Pennsylvania

16 September 2013
Press Releases

House Democratic Policy Committee and The Mayor’s Commission on Literacy discuss need for funding and policies that put adults on pathways to gainful employment

PHILADELPHIA, PA (September 16, 2013) – On Wednesday, September 11, 2013, The Mayor’s Commission on Literacy participated in a public hearing at Peirce College co-hosted by Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, and Philadelphia State Representatives Cherelle Parker, Brian Sims, Michelle Brownlee, and Stephen Kinsey.

Themed adult literacy, education, and workforce development, the hearing was called to bring much needed attention to the state of adult literacy and workforce readiness. The fifteen delegates in attendance represented 11 Pennsylvania counties collectively. The Policy Committee heard testimonies from leaders of adult literacy agencies, workforce development organizations, and post-secondary educational institutions; all of whom stressed the importance of investing in programs that train adults to successfully join and advance in today’s workforce.

“The information presented at today’s hearing is vital to the economic and social growth of our commonwealth. To prevent stagnation, we must adequately invest in programs dedicated to creating an employable adult workforce by addressing adult literacy, education and workforce development in growing markets,” Parker said. “I applaud those working on the front lines and look forward to further collaboration that will help advance this important public policy issue.”

Among those working on the front lines was Kim Rossman, president of Pennsylvania Association for Adult Continuing Education and executive director of Tutors of Literacy in the Commonwealth.

“Pennsylvania’s workforce is struggling to meet the needs of the 21st century economy. Over 1 million Pennsylvania adults over 25 lack a high school diploma.” said Rossman.

Jobs today require complex skill-sets, including proficiency with technology, which millions of unemployed and underemployed adults simply don’t have. “Literacy programs fill the gaps between skill levels of Pennsylvania’s adult learners and the needs of the economy. Unfortunately funding for programs has been cut nearly 50% over the last seven years while demand for services has only increased.” Rossman added.

Alexis Brown, former executive director of Community Women’s Education Project (CWEP), a community based organization in North Philadelphia that offers workforce development education to foster self-sufficiency for its low-income clients, attested to the high demand for services literacy providers face locally. 550,000 Philadelphians, nearly one in two adults, lack the skills required of today’s workforce.

“Adult learners often bring a wealth of challenges to the classroom,” Brown explained, “from parenting, struggling to keep the lights on, and everything in between. But they also bring life experience and a desire to learn. Some have a high school diploma already, but don’t have the skills to get accepted into a post-secondary program or can’t pass a job entrance exam.”

Recent GED® earner Brian Davis, 52, shared his personal story of determination as he urged legislators to invest in adult literacy programs. “I tried 10 to 12 times to achieve my GED®, but life circumstances didn’t allow me to finish. This one last time I said I was going to believe in myself that I can become a productive member of society. It wasn’t easy because I’ve been out of school 35 years and had to learn how to study. But the good people at District 1199C believed in me too. These programs don’t just provide education, they teach character and restore self-esteem,” Davis said.

Davis is now pursuing certification as a Behavioral Health Technician through a post-secondary program with District 1199c and Philadelphia University.

Community colleges are another major source of instruction for low literate adults striving for post-secondary success. Dr. Judith Gay, interim president of Community College of Philadelphia discussed college readiness, not only in Philadelphia, but on behalf of Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges.

“Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians want to work, but many can’t qualify for training to move into high-demand industries where jobs are going unfilled. Community colleges across the state are struggling to keep pace with the strong demand for adult education classes. By restoring funding for adult education, community colleges in rural areas can deliver adult education courses to underserved areas and those in urban areas can expand the number of students they serve,” said Gay.

She believes funding to help citizens rise up to college-level knowledge and skill leads to better job opportunities, more financially secure families and a more competitive workforce.

Leslie Stiles, vice chair of The Mayor’s Commission on Literacy agreed that it’s a simple matter of economics. “It’s critical that we put adults back to work with the literacy skills they need. Economically it’s in our best interest to do so; to get people off of dependence and contributing through tax revenues. If we want to help children, we have to help their parents get family-sustaining jobs.”

“It’s essential that we look at issues like literacy, education and workforce preparedness comprehensively,” Sturla said. “We’ve seen in recent years that for every action, there are impacts on a wide range of related issues. In this case inequitable education funding in Pennsylvania has left some communities with literacy issues and a less prepared workforce, in turn hurting our state’s bottom line. Today we examined how we can best direct the Commonwealth’s resources to have the greatest overall positive impact on our people and our communities.”

Judith Rényi, executive director of The Mayor’s Commission on Literacy, closed the hearing with a recap of the policy recommendations addressed, such as: ensure Pennsylvania participates in the next national adult literacy study so the commonwealth has accurate data on its citizens; create an educators’ certification that infuses workforce literacy standards when educating adults; put funding for adult education back into community college budget so community colleges aren’t competing with countless other agencies for funding; write legislation that supports dual enrollment programs that allow high school students and those on a path to GED® attainment earn college credits; extend state grants to learners in adult education courses; support bridge programs for learners who are long out of school; and make modifications to state requirements to clients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) that include adult education as a core activity for continued benefits.

“This is not a high school issue, this is not a kid issue, it’s an adult issue, Rényi urged. “Adults are not able to work. It only takes a few thousand dollars to put adults on a path to self-sufficiency. This is simple; invest in them. The return on that investment is exponential.”

“It’s crucial we hear the obstacles and successes Philadelphians face in getting good jobs with the educational resources our community has to offer,” Brownlee said. “Literacy, of course, is a necessity in the workplace, and bridging the two will remain a priority for me not only in the community, but in Harrisburg as well.

Testifying at the hearing included a panel on adult literacy: Michael Westover, executive director, Center for Literacy; Kim Rossman, president of Pennsylvania Association for Adult Continuing Education and executive director of Tutors of Literacy in the Commonwealth; and Dr. Carol Clymer, co-director of the Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy and Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy, Penn State University; a panel on post-secondary education: Dr. Judith Gay, interim president, Community College of Philadelphia; Shirley Moy, director of the Center for Social Policy & Community Development, Temple University; Alexis Brown, former executive director, Community Women’s Education Project; a panel on workforce development: Mark Edwards, president and chief executive officer, Philadelphia Works; and a panel from the Mayor’s Commission on Literacy: Brian Davis, recent GED® earner now pursing Certification as a Behavioral Health Technician; Leslie Stiles, vice chair; and Dr. Judith Renyi, executive director.

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