Blog: Amy Goodman

Literacy matters! And Michigan suffers from some startling statistics. Amy Goodman is the executive director of Washtenaw Literacy and this week's guest blogger. She'll be writing about the region's struggle with literacy rates and their implications on our economy and culture.

Amy Goodman - Post 3: Literacy builds sustainable communities

Michigan is at a crossroads. Our industrial economy shrinks daily, expanding an unemployment rate that reached crisis level months ago. I blogged last week about what that unemployment has exposed:  large numbers of unemployed adults who are unprepared to transition to a new economy because they struggle with everyday reading, writing and math tasks

Literacy skills are crucial for success in the knowledge-based economy proposed for Michigan’s future. These skills are at the heart of sustainable communities.  Transforming Michigan’s Adult Learning Infrastructure , a report to the Council for Labor and Economic Growth, explains: "A skilled workforce attracts higher-end employers and provides the vital human capital necessary for existing employers to expand more rapidly. When we meet the expansion of opportunities in the new economy with an equal or greater increase in the number of trained workers, we can expect job creation and economic growth. Michigan will be able to attract employers who strongly value a workforce that has the skills, knowledge, and credentials required to meet their needs."

That takes investment. But, even before the current economic crisis, funding for adult education and literacy was inadequate. While Americans spent, on average, $6500 a year for each school-aged child’s education, for those in need of adult basic education and literacy services the expenditure has been only $300 per year.

In Michigan the decline in state funding for adult education has contributed to our current economic straits:  from 1997 to 2001 our state invested $80 million annually in adult education, by 2006 that was slashed to $20 million annually, and the worst may be yet to come. Michigan is ranked 44th in terms of enrollment in state administered adult basic education programs. (The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) (2008) Adult Learning in Focus: National and State-by-State Data.)

We need action and it starts at the local level.  If the upcoming Washtenaw Schools Millage referendum fails, it is not just school-aged children who will lose. Washtenaw County public school districts will be forced to make difficult choices, and services that are not mandated, such as Adult Education, will be eliminated. Washtenaw Literacy partners with nearly every public school Adult Education program in Washtenaw County to support adults striving to improve basic skills. For most of these adults, who support families, the goal is to improve their employment outlook. As the county’s only literacy council serving adults, Washtenaw Literacy needs these partners.

Our tutors are called to their service with an open heart, and our learners come to us with an open mind. Our county voters can help to underwrite this powerful combination. Vote in support of Washtenaw Schools and know that you’re supporting a far larger county effort.

Remember: you cannot help someone get up a hill without getting closer to the top yourself.