By SUSAN NARVAIZ
Mayor of San Marcos
Thursday, Feb. 12, is Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday. It is also “Literacy Day at the Capitol.”
Why do we need a Literacy Day at the Capitol? Surely everyone there knows how to read and write. Certainly our elected officials would want to make sure that every Texan who wants an education has access to the basic learning tools that President Lincoln had two centuries ago. After all, it is 2009, the age of the highly technical, globalized marketplace.
But in 2009, we have the following reality in Texas concerning literacy:
* One in four adults in Texas reads below the fifth grade level.
* One in five adult Texans does not have a high school diploma – ranking us last in state literacy levels.
* Texas also ranks LAST in the amount of money spent in remediation.
* An estimated 119,000 young Texans drop out of school annually at a cost to taxpayers of $377 million.
* More than 10 million Texans need adult education services – but only 100,000 receive them!
* The average cost to prepare an adult for GED completion is $484.
* U.S. businesses and taxpayers lose $20 billion a year in lost wages, profits and productivity due to limited adult literacy skills.
Why is there a Literacy Day at the Capitol?
Texas Works 2008: Training and Education for All Texans, a report from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, cites that a serious imbalance is emerging between the demand for skilled workers and the state’s ability to supply them.
As the nation’s current leader in job creation, Texas cannot afford to fall behind. This report provides an in-depth study of this issue with recommended steps to ensure that our state’s young and growing population is one of the world’s strongest and most highly skilled work forces. It highlights many statistics and findings:
* The number of jobs requiring technical training, certifications or associate degrees is outpacing the number of people available to fill them, despite the fact that many pay above-average salaries.
* A growing number of employers across the state need more skilled workers.
* Multiple paths to high school graduation and postsecondary training and education will help reduce the skilled-worker gap and could help reduce dropout rate. Current state policy focuses on a single path to a four-year degree;
* Texas population projections point to a less educated work force if the state continues on its current path, negating the economic advantage of a younger average working population.
In a state that has so much to boast about, we must not fall further behind. It is my hope that you will join the many who will ask the Texas Legislature to consider these statistics and support the Texas Education Agency’s request to appropriate $50 million dollars to fund Adult Education and Literacy for Texas.
Your voices on the state, local and federal level will give added impetus to funding programs that will reach millions who, with increased access to quality adult education and workforce retraining, will become valuable employees, benefiting their families and contributing to our overall economic well being.
You might ask, how we will tackle this challenge? Listen to the following:
Even though, at capacity, Texas is serving only 3.5 percent of adults in need of basic education, there are programs that deliver astounding results.
* 88 percent of Texas’ adult learners, who enter adult education programs with a goal of receiving a GED, receive that GED.
* Texas adult education curriculum standards and innovative programs are becoming models for states around the country.
* The federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) only rated 4 of 90 federally-funded education programs as “effective” – the highest rating a program can get. Adult Education was one of those programs.
These are successful initiatives. However, it is imperative that Texas better fund these programs and reach out to more students.
Rutgers University conducted a study on 500 Adult Basic Education graduates and the impact their participation in ABE had on their children’s education. Among other encouraging discoveries, 75 percent of those interviewed saw an improvement in their children’s grades, and just as many said their children began showing a better attitude toward school.
Adult education programs work for the family! Adult education works for our communities! Adult education and workforce training, if funded, will work to keep our state’s reputation for being the best place to locate a business and to find a diversified workforce.
Susan Narvaiz is Mayor of San Marcos. A strong advocate of adult education, she earned her GED in 1976.