Thursday, June 3, 2021

Letter to President Biden: "The Stakes Are High, The Need Is Great, and The Time Is Now."

In California, the bulk of funding for Adult Education - especially for Adult Schools - is through the state. Only a relatively small portion of funding is from federal sources. In many other states, the reverse is true. What happens on the federal level determines funding realities for Adult Ed in many parts of the US and influences policy for Adult Ed in every state. This letter - written by John Mears in conversation with many others - is an important summary of why it is so important that Adult Ed be seen, valued, and funded. 

About Mr. Mears:  John Mears has taught ESL to adult immigrants for Los Angeles Unified School District for more than 35 years. He has advocated for adult education with the California Council for Adult Education (CCAE) and United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). This letter was a joint effort, with the generous help of many professional educators and advocates, as well as adult learners, throughout the USA.

April 26, 2021

The Honorable Joseph R. Biden


The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500


Dear Mr. President:

Thank you for leading the fight against the pandemic with a vigorous national strategy. Now we need an equally vigorous national strategy to address an ongoing systemic failure that has been long in the making:  increasing numbers of under-educated adults. 

We, the undersigned, are educators who have dedicated our lives to meeting the lifelong learning needs of adults nationwide. Our group also includes adult students who have benefited from adult education programs. We are delighted to see that your American Jobs Plan “will better tailor services to workers’ job seeking and career development needs through investments in Expanded Career Services and the (Workforce Investment and Opportunities Act) Title II adult literacy program.” However, we want to ensure that all U.S. adults who need foundational skills -- including immigrants, regardless of their ability to work -- will be served.  

In the United States, 19% of adults are profoundly in need of literacy skills development and 29% lack critical numeracy skills. These adults are overrepresented in communities of color—the same communities that have been most adversely affected by the COVID-induced health and economic challenges that are rooted in systemic inequity. They are also especially vulnerable to the COVID pandemic, as low-skilled adults are often first out of the job market and last back in during times of economic crisis. A recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis indicates that anticipated job growth for those with a high school diploma or less is 0% to -2.3%, while all other education levels show positive growth.

The lack of skilled, well-trained workers in our nation caused nearly 7 million jobs to be unfilled in the U.S., even before the pandemic, according to the Labor Department. Now, as the economy is rebounding, the unmet need for sufficiently trained and literate workers is even greater. U.S. industry and business leaders have been sounding the alarm about this problem since the 1990s -- yet opportunities for adults to get basic education and job training have eroded substantially in the past dozen years. These deficiencies cripple our economy, our competitiveness on the world stage, and efforts to “Build Back Better.”  

Your ambitious goals of naturalizing immigrants bring additional challenges. Millions of immigrants need to learn English as a Second Language (ESL), U.S. history and government, and get on the path to U.S. citizenship.  This group already represents at least half of adult learners and will almost certainly grow in the near future.  

Nationwide, many states and communities already offer adult basic (or foundational) skills education programs; but since the 2008 recession, many of these programs have been drastically curtailed or eliminated due to budget cuts. Surviving programs have increasingly relied on federal tax dollars through WIOA – the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act -- and matching state and local funds, which may also be cut. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has further eroded adult education programs by forcing most instruction online, through virtual education platforms. Although online instruction presents daunting challenges, especially for the economically disadvantaged, it also offers exciting opportunities for educational programs that can be offered nationwide.  

Especially given the educational challenges that come with your ambitious plans for immigration reform, we propose the following: 

·        Increased funding overall. At current levels of funding, adult education programs are able to serve under 3% of the adults who could benefit from their programs. Furthermore, in the next five years, adult education programs are expecting a significant surge in participation, like the surge that happened following the last economic downturn. Steady yet significant increases in funding over the next five years will allow programs to build the capacity they need to address the increased demand. We support Senator Reed's request for $1 billion in initial aid through pandemic response funding and a doubling of the annual appropriation for the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act state grant program (Title 2 of WIOA) over the next five years, beginning with an $810 million appropriation for FY 22.

·        More free or low-fee lifelong learning opportunities -- available both in-person and online nationwide. Adult Education and Literacy, as adult foundational skills are referred to in the WIOA legislation, should include: adult basic education, including adult basic literacy; all levels of English language learning instruction and U.S. citizenship test preparation for immigrants and refugees (ESL or ESOL); digital literacy skills; adult high school diploma programs; high school equivalency preparation programs; and other important educational services for adults such as older adult programs, workplace basic skills, and family or intergenerational literacy programs). We also believe that occupational training, including Integrated Education and Training, especially for new “green jobs” (wind energy, solar, etc.) is important. If offered online, these programs could be accessed anywhere in the USA. However, in-person instruction is generally preferable, especially for the economically and technologically disadvantaged, and it should be expanded and offered through a wide range of organizations and institutions: district K-12 school systems, community colleges, community-based organizations, public libraries, faith-based organizations, correctional institutions, etc.  

  • A new “amnesty” program for immigrants. In the late 1980s, many adult education programs in the USA mobilized to facilitate President Reagan’s amnesty program (the Immigration Reform and Control Act) by gearing up quickly to offer classes in ESL and citizenship to many thousands of immigrants who are now proud U.S. citizens.  We believe that a similar program would admirably serve our nation’s economy and civil society, and reward millions of honest, hard-working but undocumented immigrants with well-deserved security.  

·       Coordination of funding among local and national educational systems, so that federally funded programs, state-funded programs and community-based groups can function more effectively together.  Components of these systems would include, among others: learning management systems; shared databases; professional development systems for everybody (not just funded programs); common assessments for common data; etc.   

·       Community and family focus. Educating parents has a profound ripple effect throughout families and communities. Critics of adult education say we should “just focus on the kids,” but parents’ educational levels correlate with their children’s success in school. Los Angeles Unified School District has community adult schools that provide hubs of learning for children and parents alike. Where possible, they offer childcare to facilitate parents’ education. This approach is already working well in other adult education programs across the country.

·       Senator Reed (D-RI) and Senator Young (R-IN) have introduced the Strengthening Research in Adult Education Act (S. 1126). We enthusiastically support this bipartisan bill and urge your administration to support it as well.

As adult educators, as lifelong learners, and as advocates, we -- and thousands of our colleagues -- would be delighted to work with your administration to develop new and expanded educational programs for adults nationwide.  

The stakes are high, the need is great, and the time is now. 


John Mears

ESL teacher, West Valley Occupational Center

LAUSD Division of Adult and Career Education

Los Angeles, CA


Sharon Bonney

CEO, Coalition on Adult Basic Education

Cicero, NY


Deborah Kennedy

Executive Director, National Coalition for Literacy

Washington, DC


Michele Diecuch

Senior Director of Programs, ProLiteracy

Syracuse, NY


Federico Salas-Isnardi

Director, Mayor’s Office for Adult Literacy

Houston, TX 


Silja Kallenbach

Vice President, World Education, Inc.

Boston, MA


Ira Yankwitt

Executive Director, Literacy Assistance Center

New York, NY


David J. Rosen

President, Newsome Associates

Co-founder and Steering Committee Member, Open Door Collective

Board Member, ProLiteracy

Boston, Massachusetts


Rosa Aronson, PhD

Interim Executive Director, TESOL International Association 

Alexandria, VA


Marty Finsterbusch

Executive Director, Voice of Adult Learners United for Education (VALUEUSA)

Media, PA


Cynthia Eagleton

ESL Teacher, San Mateo Adult School

CFT Local 4681

San Mateo, CA


Kristen Pursley

Adult School Teacher, West Contra Costa Adult Education

Contra Costa County, CA


Christine Ramirez,

President, California Council for Adult Education/Los Angeles Metropolitan Section

Los Angeles, CA


Sean Abajian

Principal, El Rancho Adult Education Center

Pico Rivera, CA


Dr. Carolyn Quetzal

Instructional Technology Teacher Advisor, LAUSD

Diversity, Inclusion, and Educational Equity Advocate

Los Angeles, CA


Veronica Montes

Director, School & Family Support Services

Culver City Unified School District

Culver City, CA


Dr. Janet Eyring

Emerita Professor of TESOL

California State University, Fullerton

Fullerton, CA


Dr. Vanessa Wenzell

Emerita Professor of TESOL

California State University, Dominguez Hills

Dominguez Hills, CA


Dr. Cherry Campbell

Academic Director (ret.), American Language Institute

San Diego State University

San Diego, CA


Wendy B. Smith, Ph.D.

Professor Emerita, Department of English

California State University, San Bernardino

San Bernardino, CA


Dr. Ann Snow

Professor of Education/TESOL

Chair, Division of Applied and Advanced Studies in Education
California State University, Los Angeles  

Los Angeles, CA    


Jean Wong, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, The College of New Jersey

Dept. of Special Education, Language & Literacy

Ewing, NJ


Donna M. Brinton

Lecturer/Academic Coordinator (ret.), Department of Applied Linguistics & TESL

UCLA ESL Service Courses

Los Angeles, CA


Sabrina Peck

Professor Emerita, Linguistics/TESL

California State University Northridge 

Northridge, CA


Juan Carlos Gallego

Professor of TESOL and Spanish, California State University, Fullerton

Fullerton, CA


Paula Rainey

Managing Director, The English School at Lawrence Road Presbyterian Church

Lawrenceville, NJ


Marina Kravtsova

Alumna of San Mateo Adult School

San Mateo Adult School English Learner Specialist

Advisor to Student Council and Student Ambassadors

Volunteer Coordinator

Former Member of California AB86 Workgroup

San Mateo, CA


Shara Watkins

Trustee, School Board

San Mateo-Foster City School District

San Mateo, CA


Merari L. Weber, Ed.D.

Associate Professor/ESL Department Chair

Coordinator, ESL & SCE Guided Pathways

School of Continuing Education

Santa Ana College

Santa Ana, CA


Osiel “Ozzie” Madrigal, Ed.D.

Workforce Development Coordinator, Associate Professor, & Department Chair

Santa Ana College School of Continuing Education


Laura Porfirio 

President, Arizona Association for Lifelong Learning

Tucson, AZ


Dr. Meghan R. McBride 

Alumni Advisor to the COABE Board of Directors

Atlanta, GA


Ligia Andrade Zúñiga, MPA

School Board Trustee, San Mateo Union High School District

Civil Justice Advocate

San Mateo, CA


Stephen Reder, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus of Applied Linguistics

Portland State University

Co-founder, Open Door Collective

Portland, OR


San Mateo Adult School Federation of Teachers

CFT Local 4681

San Mateo Adult School

San Mateo, CA


Lynnette Garcia, Debra Kattler, Debi Rose, Marilynn Kaplan, Heather Lietch, David Pollack and Sophia Mahoney-Rohri

Team leaders and moderators, Indivisible SF Peninsula CA14

San Francisco, CA


Consuelo Lara and Jessica Peregrina, Co-Chairs

West County Concilio Latino

Contra Costa County, CA


B.K. Williams

Co-Coordinator, Richmond Progressive Alliance Steering Committee

Richmond, CA


Jan M. Frodesen, Ph.D.

Emerita Professor

English for Multilingual Students Program

Department of Linguistics

University of California, Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, CA



Vice President Kamala Harris

Dr. Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education

U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (all members)

U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, and Education (all members)

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT 3rd District)

Senators Reed (D-RI) and Young (R-IN)

Amy Loyd, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Strategic Initiatives, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (serving as Acting Assistant Secretary)

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