Siloam Springs Herald Leader
Adult literacy in Arkansas desperately needs more funding
The state of Arkansas is facing a serious issue with adult literacy, with one in seven adults struggling to read at a third-grade level.
This not only reduces income, health and quality of life for individuals and families but it also increases costs for society. This low literacy makes it difficult for them to fill out job applications, understand newspaper articles, read election ballots or read books to their children.
The Dogwood Literacy Council, like many other literacy councils throughout the state, relies heavily on funding from the state through the Adult Learning Alliance to support its programs and services. Unfortunately, these funds have remained the same for the last 20 years and only make up 42% of the council’s total budget.
The council must raise the remaining 58% with fundraising and donations. The council’s goal is to increase the total amount for all 23 literacy councils from $487,000 to $1 million.
In Siloam Springs, the council serves a diverse and growing population of adult learners. Many of the council’s students have varying levels of education and come to the council with a range of needs, including improving their English language skills.
The Dogwood Literacy Council provides many services to help these immigrants from other countries succeed, such as English as a second language, family literacy, financial literacy, health literacy, practice for the citizenship test and help with job skills.
The council also works with the local community college, Northwest Arkansas Community College, to offer GED practice and preparation.
Developing a skilled workforce is crucial for the 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.
About two-thirds of employed adults with low literacy earn less than $16,000 per year. Many of these adults lack the skills necessary to even begin work to obtain a GED.
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 foundation for them to learn skills and earn the credentials to lead them to available job opportunities and help them achieve self-sufficiency.
The Adult Learning Alliance of Arkansas, founded in 1971, was created to advocate, train, fund and support a statewide network of community-based literacy councils that are providing these educational opportunities. Through a team of over 300 volunteer tutors, adult learners receive 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.
Local councils around the state in partnership with the Adult Learning Alliance of Arkansas are asking the legislature to increase funding for these programs to reach more adults, increase services and expand into unserved counties. This increase in funding will be a great investment in Arkansas, as improving adult literacy has a profound economic impact. For example, estimates by Proliteracy indicate that simply bringing every low literate adult up to a 6th grade reading level would cost $2.2 trillion to the US economy. Imagine the impact of increased adult literacy on the economy of Arkansas.
We ask that each person reading this article email their Arkansas legislator in favor of increasing adult literacy funding. For more information, please contact the Dogwood Literacy Council dogwood.literacy@ gmail.com.
Here are some email addresses of local representatives I have contacted in 2023: