Guest writer


Invest in adult literacy

Times may have changed with school start dates typically in August now. However, many of us still associate September with back to school.

This month we celebrate Adult Education and Family Literacy Week (Sept. 18-24) and acknowledge those adult learners who also are heading back to school at their local literacy council. Literacy councils are critical to lifting Arkansans out of poverty, strengthening our economy, and improving our quality of life.

About 43 million Americans--one in five adults--read below a third-grade level; in Arkansas, one in seven adults. That means they have difficulty filling out a job application, understanding a newspaper article, reading a ballot, or reading a book to their children.

Literacy is the foundation of everything. Low literacy reduces income, health, and quality of life for individuals and families, and increases costs for society.

Developing a skilled workforce is important to our state's economy. According to the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, the average annual income of adults with low literacy who are employed is $34,000, nearly two times lower than the incomes of workers with even slightly higher levels of literacy, and about two-thirds of employed adults with low literacy earn less than $16,000 per year. Currently, the state supports 23 adult literacy councils, which in fiscal year 2022 served just over 1,500 low-level adult learners

By providing educational opportunities for low-level adult learners, we can lay the framework for them to learn skills and earn the credentials to lead them to available job opportunities and help them achieve self-sufficiency.

Patricia, who has been an English as a Second Language student with the Van Buren County Literacy Council for several years, is an example of this. In addition to English reading and writing, the council helped her study for her citizenship test.

Soon after she became a citizen in November of 2020, she got a new job in a tire manufacturing plant in Conway. She learned her job duties very quickly and became more confident with her English communication. Recently, she was promoted to team leader and received a substantial raise. She continues to come to class to improve her English and someday earn her GED.

Founded in 1971, Adult Learning Alliance was created to advocate, train, fund, and support a statewide network of community-based literacy councils that are providing those educational opportunities. Through a team of 300-plus volunteer tutors, adult learners received free one-on-one tutoring or classes in reading, digital, math, health, English, and financial literacy.

With a population of about 3 million, we have barely touched 1 percent of those Arkansans who need our services. We need to improve literacy and give all Arkansans the opportunity to succeed, and one guaranteed way to do that is to increase adult literacy funding.

Adult Learning Alliance of Arkansas is the statewide nonprofit that provides structure and support to county-level literacy councils serving adults in over 50 Arkansas counties.