Progress for Adult Education in 2021
Highlights of Federal Advocacy
Over the past year, COABE has been fighting hard for adult educators and adult learners throughout the nation. By being at the table and working every day for you, we help ensure that your voices are being heard whenever and wherever they need to be. Advocacy to expand support for adult education is a long-term effort with successes and progress markers along the way.

In 2021, we worked together to increase federal funding for adult education, improve program implementation at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), and support legislation that will strengthen adult education. A few highlights of our successes include U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona's incorporation of COABE’s recommendations to include adult education in the ED’s agency-wide grant priorities; introduction of a bipartisan bill by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Todd Young (R-IN) to strengthen research in adult education; and recommendation by Congress of an additional $700 million in direct funding for adult education in the pending Build Back Better Act. Our progress is a result of our collective efforts to elevate your voices throughout the year.
Thank you for your ongoing support and advocacy! As we look back at the successes in 2021, we look forward to working with you to continue to improve the lives of adult learners and adult educators in 2022.
Supported Strong and Effective Advocacy
Fought for Increased Funding to Adult Education Programs
·      Included COVID-19 Relief Funding in Pending Build Back Better Act: The current version of the Build Back Better Act includes $700 million in direct funding for adult learners and educators. This wouldn't have been possible without the sustained advocacy and constant support from COABE and adult education advocates everywhere. Because this bill is currently stalled in the Senate, persistent advocacy is essential to get this bill to the President’s desk for his signature.
·     Proposed Increases for Fiscal Year 2022 Appropriations: COABE is fortunate to have champions for adult education programs in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Todd Young (R-IN) circulated a letter, signed by 28 other senators, requesting that the Adult Education State Grant Program be funded at $810 million for FY22 and be doubled in the next five years. Representatives John Yarmuth (D-KY) and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) have been fighting for increases in federal funding to adult education programs. As a result of their efforts, the House-passed FY22 appropriations bill included an increase of $25 million to the Adult Education State Grants program which brings the increased funding since the launch of the award winning “Educate and Elevate” campaign to $118 million. Congress will consider this legislation for the additional $25 million by mid-February.
·      Requested Increases in Fiscal Year 2023 Appropriations: COABE sent a letter to President Biden requesting that he include increases to the Adult Education State Grant Program in his FY23 Budget Request.

Drove Policy Changes
·      Strengthened Research in Adult Education Through Legislation: In April, Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Todd Young (R-IN) introduced the Strengthening Research in Adult Education Act. If enacted, it would allow the Institute for Education Science (IES) and the National Center for Education Statistics to collect and circulate data that would improve adult education programs at the state and local level. It would also guarantee that adult educators have representation when the IES develops its policy agenda and priorities. COABE will continue to monitor and advocate for the passage of this bill.
·      Prioritized Adult Education at the Department of Education: In July, COABE sent a letter to ED advocating for the inclusion and prioritization of adult learners and educators in the Secretary’s grant priorities. As a result of COABE’s advocacy, the Secretary incorporated three of COABE’s four recommendations.
·     Broadened the Definition of Measurable Skill Gains and Revised Table 4 of the National Reporting System for Adult Education: In response to OCTAE’s comment request on the National Reporting System for Adult Education (NRS), COABE provided public input on OCTAE’s proposed changes. COABE advocated for all MSGs for Integrated Education and Training (IET) students to be reported while also asking for Table 4 of the NRS to be streamlined so that submitting data on adult education programs is easier. We also encouraged the field of adult education to submit responses and held webinars to provide members with tools and support to submit their comments. As a result of COABE’s advocacy and your engagement, OCTAE revised Table 4.
·      Included Ability to Benefit in the Institutional and Programmatic Eligibility Committee: COABE submitted a letter to ED commenting on the importance of “Ability to Benefit” (ATB) for adult learners and how to strengthen the program. President-elect Regina Suitt provided online testimony advocating for maintaining and strengthening ATB for adult learners. As a result, ED established a negotiated rulemaking committee to discuss several topics including ATB which will begin in 2022.
·     Advanced Equity Through Adult Education: COABE sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in response to OMB’s request for information regarding methods and leading practices for advancing equity and support for underserved communities through government. COABE recommendations included prioritizing adult education and providing more opportunity and innovation through new assessment and accountability systems.
·      Recommended Changes to the Education Sciences Reform Act: In late July, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Patty Murray and Ranking Member Richard Burr announced the beginning of bipartisan discussions to reauthorize the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA). In this announcement, the Senators requested comments and recommendations regarding this reauthorization from stakeholders. In response to this announcement, COABE sent a letter to Senators Murray and Burr with our recommendations.
Represented Adult Learners and Educators in Stakeholder Discussions
·      Advocated for the Needs of Adult Education During Adult Education and Family Literacy Week: During National Adult Education and Family Literacy (AEFL) Week, which takes place during the third week of September, COABE held a week-long event filled with seminars, training sessions, award ceremonies, and advocacy meetings. During the week, COABE CEO, Sharon Bonney, President Jody Angelone, President-Elect and Public Policy Chair Regina Suitt, and Past-President Don Finn met with the offices of key federal legislators such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to advocate for COABE’s federal funding requests.
·      Met With Under Secretary Kvaal: In December, COABE met with Under Secretary James Kvaal, who oversees OCTAE and other ED offices, to discuss COABE’s mission and policy priorities.
·      Collaborated With Lawmakers to Amend WIOA: In December, COABE's CEO met with House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott’s adult education staffer to discuss COABE’s WIOA recommendations. We have been deeply involved in the development of a bill that includes our WIOA recommendations with Senator Jack Reed (D-RI). We expect the bill to be introduced in the first quarter of this year.
·      Made Our Voices Heard to the Department of Education: We participated in a listening session with ED officials and adult education advocacy groups. In the meeting, COABE's CEO stressed the importance of safely reopening adult education programs and asked that adult education programs receive more funding to address the needs of their students. We sent a letter with recommendations for OCTAE.
·     Built Partnerships With the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education and Called for Flexibility: COABE members had the opportunity to meet with top officials at OCTAE. We would like to thank COABE members Meghan McBride (GA), Stephenie Rittberger (SD), Laurie Kierstead-Joseph (AZ), and John Werner (CA) who advocated on behalf of adult education learners, educators, and programs! COABE recommended that OCTAE provide flexibility regarding performance accountability measurements and clarify that states and local providers can spend more money on professional development.
·      Briefed Federal Legislators About Adult Education: In February, COABE hosted a legislative briefing that was well attended by legislators and staff entitled “Adult Education: A Catalyst for American Recovery and Growth.” COABE was joined by honorary co-hosts Senator Reed (D-RI), Senator Young (R-IN), Representative Yarmuth (D-KY) and Representative Grijalva (D-AZ). We thank Oogie LaMar (MI), Shakita Boyd (CT), Meghan McBride (GA), and Don Finn (VA) for speaking on behalf of adult learners and educators. The one-pager with COABE’s recommendations can be found here.
·      Voiced Support for Dr. Amy Loyd: In October, the Senate HELP Committee advanced the nomination of Dr. Amy Loyd to the position of Assistant Secretary for OCTAE to the Senate floor. COABE released a statement of support for Dr. Loyd’s advancement and urged the Senate to swiftly confirm her to the position.
·      Connected With Policy Makers: COABE constantly held productive discussions with critical decision makers to ensure that they understand the importance of adult education. In 2021, COABE's CEO met multiple times with the National Governors Association, presented to the Reskilling Network, and sent 23 informational talking points to members of Congress and their staff, resulting in 3,736 open messages and numerous follow up communications.
Supported Local Advocacy
·      Provided a Template Letter for Members to Send to Their Mayors: In August, we shared a template letter for members to send to their mayors. The letter requested that mayors invest in their communities by directing Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act or American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to adult education programs.
·      Educated Congress About Adult Education Programs: Via COABE’s legislative eblast, we sent 52 alerts and updates during 2021. This resulted in 117,157 opens and 27,485 actions brought to 1,576 members of Congress, governors, and their staff.
·      Informed Legislative Staff Through Our State Advocates for Adult Education Fellowship. We selected activist leaders to champion on behalf of WIOA Title II programs under the State Advocates for Adult Education Fellowship (SAAEF). Last year, state fellows completed 158 visits to legislative staff, wrote op-eds, and participated heavily in social media and other outlets to increase funding and visibility for our field.
·      Kept the Field Engaged and Ready to Act: COABE tracked important legislation in Congress and made sure to circulate informational pieces for the field. After the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, we circulated a one-pager to the field that described the relevant aspects of the bill, such as the Digital Equity Act, and how supporters of adult education can advocate for funds.
Awarded Legislative Champions
·      Awarded Our Legislative Champions: COABE presented its “Champion of Adult Education Leadership Award” to select local, state, and federal legislators who have championed adult education issues throughout their legislative careers. The following legislators received the Champion of Adult Education Leadership Award for 2021. You can find each legislator’s acceptance speech here.
·      Senator Jack Reed (D-RI)
·      Senator Todd Young (R-IN)
·      Congressman Dusty Johnson (R-SD)
·      Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ)
·      Congressman John Yarmuth (D-KY)
·      Congressman Chris Jacobs (R-NY) and Legislative Aide Ryan Sweeney
·      Congressman Don Young (R-AK)
·      Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI)
·      Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL)
·      Mayor Lori Bagwell (Carson City, NV)
·      Mayor Erin Mendenhall (Salt Lake City, UT)
COABE's advocacy efforts are generously sponsored in part by Aztec Software.