e-Texas e-Texassmaller smarter faster governmentDecember, 2000
Carole Keeton Rylander
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

Recommendations of the Texas Comptroller

Chapter 7: Workforce

Consolidate Responsibility

for Adult Basic Education


Basic adult literacy is critical to the improvement of Texas’ workforce. Adults without basic skills cannot take advantage of more advanced training provided by government or businesses. Texas should optimize its literacy resources by linking its literacy programs to the Texas Workforce Commission’s (TWC’s) workforce development system. All adult basic education programs should be housed at TWC to ensure their full integration with local workforce development boards.


State law defines “adult basic education” essentially as high school-level classes taught to people above 16 years old, the age at which the state no longer can require a person to attend school. One Texas Education Agency (TEA) administrator has described the purpose of adult education as the teaching of basic reading, writing, and arithmetic, and contrasted this with workforce training, which is geared toward specific jobs or industries.[1] This highlights the difference between the philosophies of TEA and the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC)—should adult education teach only basic skills or should it include specific job skills?

At present, both TEA and TWC administer adult literacy programs, or adult basic education (ABE). ABE programs at TEA focus mostly on academic literacy, while those at TWC focus on vocational or workforce literacy. Both agencies focus on a number of distinct, individual programs, each of which targets a specialized facet of adult education.

TWC’s strategic plan for implementing the federal Workforce Investment Act notes that the state’s historically fragmented approach to service delivery resulted in duplicated services, wasted resources, and a lack of clear accountability standards. This statement resulted in legislative efforts in 1993 and 1995 that created the Human Resource Investment Council and the Texas Council on Workforce and Economic Competitiveness.[2] Efforts to reduce waste in the system have begun, but overlap and other problems persist—including a lack of fundamental agreement on the goals of adult education programs.

While TWC views all of its programs as addressing the needs of the state’s workforce and employers, TEA continues to insist that adult education programs should not be held accountable for workforce outcomes.[3]

Literacy and Wages

In 1998, more than half of Texas’ welfare recipients and almost half of its food stamps recipients lacked a high school diploma.[4] According to a 1993 Texas Adult Literacy Survey conducted by the Educational Testing Service, between 27 and 28 percent of Texas adults—about 3.5 million—fall into the lowest level of literacy, as determined by the following definition: “being able to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” Furthermore, just under 50 percent of the poor or near-poor adults in Texas rank in the lowest level of literacy.[5]

In 1979, the average college graduate earned 38 percent more than the average high-school graduate. Today, the differential is 71 percent. Less-educated workers of all racial groups—particularly men—are falling behind in earnings. Real wages for men without post-secondary education have declined significantly over the past 20 years. Men with only a high-school degree have seen their real wages fall by nearly 20 percent since 1979 (from $679 per week to $559), while the wages of men without a high-school diploma have fallen by almost 35 percent (from $555 per week to $383).[6]

And the number of job applicants who lack the basic skills for the job they seek is increasing, according to the American Management Association’s most recent annual survey on workplace testing. More than 38 percent of job applicants tested for basic skills by US corporations in 1999 lacked the necessary reading, writing, and math skills to perform the jobs they sought. The share of applicants lacking basic skills has risen from 22.8 percent in 1997. However, these results were interpreted to mean not that the workforce has become less skilled, but that employers’ expectations are rising. Only 5 percent of companies that test applicants hire workers with literacy problems and then offer some form of remedial training.[7]

Another survey by the National Association of Manufacturers and Grant Thornton LLP concluded that 30 percent of the companies responding to the survey found applicants lacking in adequate, writing, and reading comprehension skills.[8] According to a Coopers and Lybrand study, 69 percent of US employers in 1999 reported that skill shortages were a barrier to growth, compared to just 27 percent in 1993.[9]

Forty years ago, 60 percent of the national workforce was unskilled; by 1997, less than 20 percent were working at unskilled jobs, while more than 60 percent were skilled workers. The fastest employment growth will be in those jobs that require some post-secondary education.[10] By 2006, nearly one in three jobs in Texas will require some college training. While a large number of jobs require only short-term, on-the-job training, the number of those jobs is not growing nearly as fast as higher-skill jobs.[11]

Therefore, it is important that Texas create and maintain an adult basic education program teaching literacy skills that pertain to job opportunities and workforce needs. This would ensure that limited funds are used to reach the highest number of potential workers and give them the skills needed to succeed in the workplace.

New accountability systems required by the federal Workforce Investment Act must be implemented or the state may lose revenue; yet the uncoordinated nature of Texas’ current programs makes it difficult if not impossible to establish uniform administration and accountability. TWC is the logical agency to coordinate adult education programs and monitor the connection between literacy and job success. The agency already contracts with 28 local workforce development boards appointed by local elected officials to administer most of the state’s workforce development programs.


State law should be amended to move adult basic education programs from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC).

This would provide a sharper connection between literacy training and employment and increase the ability of local workforce development boards to meet the needs of participants with basic skill deficiencies. Other types of literacy programs, such as English as a Second Language and high school graduation equivalency certificates, should remain within TEA.

Fiscal Impact

This recommendation seeks neither to cut programs nor staffing, only to move them to a more appropriate jurisdiction. It should require little or no additional state expenditure.

The following funds should be transferred from TEA to TWC for the administration of adult basic education programs:

  • TEA was appropriated $40,021,086 in each year of the 2000-01 biennium for Strategy B.2.5, “Adult Education.”

  • Additionally, Rider 39 of TEA’s appropriation directed that a minimum of $2 million be spent to provide services to welfare recipients in each year of the biennium, and that $6.1 million in fiscal 2000 and $6.5 million in fiscal 2001 be directed to adults who receive federal cash assistance.

[1 ] Interview with Paul Lindsey, coordinator for Continuing Education, Texas Education Agency, Austin, Texas, July 5, 2000.

[2 ] Texas Workforce Commission, Strategic Five-Year State Workforce Investment Plan for Title I of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and the Wagner-Peyser Act As Authorized by USDOL, State of Texas for the period of July 1, 1999-June 30 2004 (Austin, Texas, April 12, 1999), p. 16.

[3 ] Interview with Paul Lindsey.

[4 ] Texas Education Agency, Texas State Plan for Adult Education and Family Literacy, July 1, 1999 through June 30, 2004 (Austin, Texas, April 12, 1999), p. 10.

[5] Texas Education Agency, Texas State Plan for Adult Education and Family Literacy, July 1, 1999 through June 30, 2004, pp. 6, 9.

[6 ] US Department of Labor, Futurework: Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century (Washington, DC, September 6, 1999), executive summary (http://www.dol.gov/dol/asp/public/futurework/execsum.htm). (Internet document.)

[7 ] American Management Association, “US Corporations Find Prospective Employees Lack Basic Skills,” New York, New York, May 26, 2000. (http://www.amanet.org/research/specials/lackskl.htm). (Internet document.)

[8 ] National Association of Manufacturers, “The NAM Annual Labor Day Report – The State of Today’s American Workforce and Keys to Prosperity Tomorrow,” (http://www.nam.org/hrp/ldRept899.htm). (Internet document.)

[9 ] Robert I. Lerman and Felicity Skidmore, Helping Low-Wage Workers: Policies for the Future (Urban Institute, Washington, DC, August 1999), p. 6 (http://www.dol.gov/dol/asp/public/futurework/conference/low-wage.htm). (Internet document.)

[10 ] US Department of Commerce, US Department of Education, US Department of Labor, and the National Institute of Literacy and the Small Business Association, 21st Century Skills for 21st Century Jobs (January 1999), pp. 1, 4 (http://www.vpskillsummit.org/bestprct.asp). (Internet document.)

[11] Texas Workforce Commission, Strategic Five-Year State Workforce Investment Plan for Title I of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and the Wagner-Peyser Act As Authorized by USDOL, State of Texas for the period of July 1, 1999-June 30 2004, pp. 14-15.

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Austin, Texas

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