The 2013 Legislature brought big changes to the Adult Basic Education (ABE) and literacy system in Texas. SB 307 by Sen. Joan Huffman, effective September 1, transfers oversight of ABE programs from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). The bill is a positive step towards strengthening Texas’ ABE and literacy programs by serving adult learners through a more cohesive and coordinated system. Linking adult basic education with workforce development should enable better educational and employment outcomes for adult Texans served.
The bill requires TWC, in collaboration with TEA and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, to overhaul the existing policies for assessment and placement mechanisms for adult education. The bill also establishes a competitive grant process for administering state and federal funds, thereby opening up the process to non-profit providers that have demonstrated success in moving adult learners toward their academic and career goals.
Finally, SB 307 establishes and empowers a new adult education advisory committee to develop a statewide strategy for improving student transitions to postsecondary education and career and technical education training. Building in a strong commitment to promote career pathways within the adult basic education and literacy system is critical for promoting a career-ready culture in Texas.
The Legislature also approved other bills aimed at promoting career pathways for adults without a high school diploma:
- SB 1142 by Sen. Robert Duncan creates a drop-out recovery pilot program for adults ages 19 to 50. The program will allow adults up to age 50 to obtain a high school diploma while pursuing career and technical education in a high-demand occupation.
- SB441 by Sen. Brian Birdwell creates the Fast Start Program designed to promote the rapid delivery of workforce training and education for adults pursing skills certification in high-demand occupations.
Other bills aimed at creating additional opportunities for training and education did not gain enough momentum:
- HB 3375 by Rep. Sylvester Turner would have allowed public technical and community colleges to waive tuition and fees for adult basic education students co-enrolled in both a basic skills training program and a postsecondary program leading to an industry-recognized credential.
- HB 1500 by Rep. Sergio Munoz, Jr., and SB 788 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa would have created an alternative workforce diploma for high school equivalency in Texas.
The 2013 Legislature restored cuts made to state ABE and literacy programs during the 2011 legislative session. Although a step in the right direction, Texas still only invests a fraction of what other competitive states invest for adults seeking a second chance at an education.
The next step is to ensure that adult Texans actually reach their academic and career goals more often. State policymakers, industry leaders and, ABE and literacy stakeholders can expand successful programs to have broader statewide impact, by:
- Leveraging innovative delivery models, including I-BEST—Integrated Basic Skills and Education Training— that integrate workforce training with basic skills instruction, moving students more quickly through basic education and towards their degree or certification.
- Expanding bridge programs that connect successful ABE and literacy programs with postsecondary and career and technical education also will be critical to ensuring the success of adult learners seeking education and training that will lead to higher-skilled and higher-paying jobs.