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

Recommendations of the Texas Comptroller

Chapter 7: Workforce

Catalog and Track

Adult Education and

Literacy Resources


Texas budgeted $51.8 million in state and federal funds for adult basic education services in fiscal 2000. Programs that receive state or federal funds are tracked and monitored by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Those that are funded locally, however, are not, which makes it difficult for citizens to locate them or to determine which programs could best meet their needs. TEA should catalog and track all adult education and literacy programs in the state while simplifying its grant application process to allow more programs to apply for state and federal funds.


Texas ranks 47th among the 50 states in literacy. Four million Texans, about 25 percent of the adult population, cannot read basic signs or maps, complete job applications or deposit slips, or carry out many of the other tasks needed to function in today’s economy.[1]

People who cannot read well are more likely to work at low-wage jobs, be unemployed, receive welfare payments, or be convicted of crimes. They also pose special training costs for business and industry. Adult illiteracy costs US businesses an estimated $225 billion a year in lost productivity.[2] If these Texans can be taught to read, they have a chance to contribute to a thriving economy; if not, most will remain in low-paying, dead-end jobs, if they can find jobs at all.

Types of Literacy Education

Adult literacy education can be defined as any education provided to an adult who is functioning below the high school level. An adult, in turn, is defined as any individual over the age of state-required compulsory school attendance—16 years or older. The three most important components of an adult literacy education program include adult basic education (ABE) for those functioning below eighth-grade level; adult secondary education or GED preparation, geared toward achieving the General Educational Development (GED) certificate as an equivalent substitute for a high school diploma; and English as a Second Language (ESL) education, for those seeking to acquire English language proficiency. Each component is aimed at helping individuals acquire further education or a better job.

Some literacy education programs address specific functional areas. These include workplace literacy, which is provided in conjunction with an employer or at a worksite, and often covers skills related to a particular job. Family literacy focuses on educating the whole family, giving adults the knowledge and skills they need to become full partners in their children’s education. Health literacy allows an individual to better understand health and illness so they can follow instructions or recognize symptoms. Financial literacy and life skills literacy allow individuals to better manage their lives and provide life coping skills. Each component has the goal of allowing the adult to function better in some aspect of society.

The various forms of literacy education are provided by traditional and nontraditional institutions. Providers include community-based organizations (CBOs) such as churches and literacy groups, local schools, community colleges, local businesses, prisons, and military installations.

Types of Funding Sources

Adult literacy programs are funded by all levels of government as well as by nonprofit organizations and businesses. The largest sources of federal funding are the US Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

In Texas, TEA is the primary provider of adult education programs. TEA’s fiscal 2001 budget includes $29.5 million from the federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA), along with $6.9 million in state funding.[3] On the local level, school districts and community colleges are most likely to house and fund such programs, while cities and counties often provide funding through their library systems.

Charitable foundations, both private and corporate, provide a substantial amount of funding for many CBOs. Corporations, businesses, unions, professional organizations, and nonprofit organizations, including faith-based and literacy volunteer organizations, are significant contributors to adult literacy education as well.

Many funding organizations forge partnerships within the community. Typically, the funding organization provides instruction and teaching materials and the partners provide the site. Also, many organizations depend on volunteers and operate with minimal staff and office space used mainly for program oversight and the coordination and training of volunteers. If such in-kind funding were not available, most providers either would be greatly limited or unable to provide services.

Program Data Needed

Adult literacy programs funded in any part by the state or federal governments are monitored carefully due to the reporting requirements imposed by the Texas Legislature and the US Congress. Many services funded exclusively by local governments and charities, by contrast, do not have to report to the state on the services they provide or the persons to whom they provide them. As a result, it is hard to measure the true extent of adult literacy services in Texas.

For example, the Literacy Council of Fort Bend County receives no state or federal funding, even though it is the largest literacy training provider in this suburban Houston county. It has 27 off-site training locations, and in 1999 relied on 283 volunteers to train 1,136 adults on a budget of $263,000.[4] Yet none of this was reported to TEA. Therefore, state-level decision makers do not have the information they need to identify unmet needs in Fort Bend County, determine appropriate funding levels, and allocate scarce resources.

Though many basic education and literacy service providers are not required to report their activities to TEA, they usually are known to other providers. Literacy providers often consult with one another, share offices, refer clients to one another, or share volunteers and paid staff. Thus the simplest way to identify nonreporting providers is to tap into the provider network. Through use of a “snowball sample”—beginning with a few, known providers and expanding the sample through referrals—we can hope to obtain a more or less comprehensive list of all providers within a given community.

Houston provides a good example of the difficulties that can be involved in obtaining basic information on all the adult education providers in a region.

Houston Education and Literacy Provider Network

Houston, Texas’ largest metropolitan area, also has the greatest need for basic education and literacy programs. More than 500,000 of Houston’s 4 million residents are adults with less than a high school education, and some observers have estimated that as many as 1 million adults may be functionally illiterate. And Houston is ethnically diverse, suggesting that a particularly wide variety of outreach, referral, and educational methods might be found here.

The city’s basic education and literacy provider network is exceptionally well-developed (Exhibit 1). In 1984, then-Mayor Kathy Whitmire created the Houston READ Commission (HRC), a coalition of literacy service providers that coordinate services among themselves and share teaching materials, training, and technical assistance. In fiscal 2000, the 135 HRC literacy partners served an estimated 90,000 adult learners with more than 5,000 volunteers. This strong urban coalition is a good indicator of the need and types of literacy services provided in the Houston area; only two major literacy consortia in the area, Literacy Advance of Houston and the Harris County Department of Education, are not members of HRC.

Exhibit 1

Selected Literacy Providers in the Houston Area

Number ServedAnnually
Annual Budget
Source of Funding
Houston READ Commission (135 partners)
$2.4 million state/federal/local$1.6 million other
Select HRC Partners:

Houston Community College System (consortium of 11 CBOs)
Association for the Advancement of Mexican-Americans
Chinese Community Center (5 sites)
$50,000 state/federal$20,000 other
Houston International University
$60,000 state/federal$25,000 other
Literacy Council of Fort Bend County (27 sites)
Other Houston Providers:

Harris County Department of Education
state/federal plus $1 million “in kind”
Literacy Advance of Houston (80 centers)

Source: Houston Read Commission, various provider reports.

HRC provides literacy training at six learning centers with a focus on workforce training and family literacy. During fiscal 2000, HRC received $4.2 million in revenues. Of this, $2.4 million came from state, federal, and local grants; $1.6 million came from 85 major contributors including corporations and foundations; and more than $100,000 was generated by special events and fundraisers. In addition, HRC received in-kind donations from about 50 area businesses.[5]

Houston adult education providers, especially the 135 HRC partners, have done a good job in cataloging available programs and services. Many of their partners receive no state or federal dollars, such as the Literacy Council of Fort Bend County, but information on their location, size, and adult education program offerings is maintained and distributed to the local workforce board and other social service agencies that might be a source for students.

Unfortunately, other regions in the state do not have the capacity to provide this cataloging service. In fact, even in Houston, some programs may not be included in HRC’s list or other area lists that could offer services to area residents. Without this information, the providers that are listed receive most of the referrals, adding to the problem of backlogs and waiting lists.

HRC’s work has spurred some coordination among providers in its area. Other areas would benefit from similar coordination. Some statewide literacy institutions such as the Texas Center for Adult Literacy and Learning (TCALL) at Texas A&M University and the Texas Family Literacy Center at the University of Texas maintain lists of providers, as do TEA and (to a lesser extent) the Texas Workforce Commission. TCALL already receives $400,000 per year in WIA funds through TEA to provide state leadership and staff training services.[6]

No one, however, maintains an updated and comprehensive list of literacy and adult education providers that can be made readily available to prospective students, policymakers, grantors and other providers. Such a list would serve as a basis for understanding the extent of literacy services in the state. The list could be expanded to include data on services offered, funding, numbers of adults served, retention rates, and assessment results, as that information is collected by providers.

TEA Funding Application is Too Complicated

TEA distributes both federal and state adult education funds through a competitive process. Many providers, even if they have a proven track record of effective delivery, choose not to seek funding from TEA. TEA’s requests for applications are more than 100 pages long, the process is rigid, and the requirements are beyond the capability of most CBOs. The application for adult education program grants for the 1999-2000 school year had some 25 distinct subsections, while the Even Start Family Literacy program grant application for the 2000-01 school year has 23, requiring 62 pages of instructions for a grant amount of only $75,000 to $200,000.[7]


A. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) should direct the Texas Center for Adult Literacy and Learning (TCALL) at Texas A&M University to expand its list of providers into a statewide catalog.

TEA should target existing federal funds for TCALL to expand and regularly update its surveys of all adult education providers in the state. While TCALL already plans to make its current listings available on the Internet, the expanded list should include all adult literacy projects, and should be distributed to all local workforce boards and other social service agencies that provide literacy referrals.

  1. TEA should streamline its grant application process.

TEA should simplify its grant application requirements, and make it easier for organizations with a proven track record to apply for and receive funding to provide adult basic education services.

Fiscal Impact

Expansion of the TCALL literacy provider catalog can be accomplished with existing federal funds and should require no additional funding. TEA’s review and revision of the grant application process should not require additional funds since this is part of the process of administering the grants program.

[1 ] Literacy Council of Fort Bend County, “Facts about Literacy,” Sugarland, Texas, June 30, 2000. (Pamphlet.)

[2 ] Sally Reese, “Illiteracy at work,” American Demographics (April 1996) (http://www.americandemographics.com). (Internet document.)

[3] Texas Education Agency, “Overview of Texas Education Agency Adult Education and Literacy Programs,” provided by Dr. Paul Lindsey, coordinator, Department of Continuing Education, Texas Education Agency, July 5, 2000, p. 9.

[4 ] Interview with Lucia Street, executive director, Literacy Council of Fort Bend County, Sugarland, Texas, July 12, 2000.

[5] Interview with John Stevenson, program director, Houston READ Commission, Houston, Texas, July 12 and 13, 2000.

[6] Interview with Deborah Stedman, manager, Division of Adult and Community Education, Texas Education Agency, Austin, Texas, July 11, 2000. Texas Education Agency, “Overview of Texas Education Agency Adult Education and Literacy Programs,” provided by Dr. Paul Lindsey, coordinator, Department of Continuing Education, Texas Education Agency, July 5, 2000, p. 9.

[7] Texas Education Agency, Request for Application, Adult Education Programs (Austin, Texas, July 26, 1999).

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