Over 30 million Americans over the age of 25 – or one out of every ten U.S. citizens – do not have a high school diploma. In Alaska, according to the Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE), more than 30,000 working age adults do not have a high school credential.
The Alaska Adult Education Association and its’ 15-member programs are working to change that statistic and are committed to providing adults with the economic opportunities created by education and job training. Our programs provide high school equivalency credentials, English language services, civics, and workforce development instruction to more than 2,000 individuals every year. These programs reach every corner of the state, and most provide instruction that is either free or at a reduced cost for participants.
This week, Governor Mike Dunleavy issued a proclamation declaring the week of September 19 to 25 as Adult Education and Family Literacy Week in Alaska.
Adult education programs have a long history in Alaska, beginning with the first program in 1942. Since then, more than 700 Alaskans annually obtain their high school equivalency diplomas through one of our programs. This year, the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Employment and Training, is covering the entire cost of GED testing (a total of $120 for the math, reading/language arts, social studies, and science tests) for individuals who enroll in any Alaskan adult education program.
Workforce development instruction is an integral part of adult education programs. Individuals can brush up on their job skills or learn new ones, such as basic computing or office skills, as they develop the soft skills employers are seeking. Some adult education programs even offer certifications for employment in the healthcare industry or as heavy equipment operators. All of these programs help move individuals into the workforce and provide economic stability for their families.
According to COABE, “for every 400,000 adults who earn a high school diploma, the economy gains $2.5 billion back in tax revenue and reduced expenses. That’s $6,250 per person! The estimated value to our economy in reduced costs for public support programs for low skilled, low literate adults is $200 billion annually.”
Family literacy programs serve parents and their young children, teaching basic skills, English as a Second Language, and parenting skills to adults while their children are provided high quality instruction. These programs are focused on breaking the cycles of low literacy, low education, and poverty.
As Alaskans celebrate Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, remember that education is a life-long process and adult education programs are here to support those endeavors. Our programs provide innumerable benefits to our communities. However, we need the support of our lawmakers in Juneau and in Washington so we can continue to provide the services that change lives, one individual at a time.
Bridget Clark, President
Alaska Adult Education Association
Alaska Will Greatly Benefit from Historic Infrastructure Bill
Several years ago, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Alaska’s infrastructure a C-minus grade. Their report reiterated what too many Alaskans know and face every day: our still-young state is deficient in water and wastewater, ports and harbors, marine transportation, energy and power infrastructure, and more. Even in our highest-graded areas – like roads and airports – Alaska still has plenty of room for improvement.
One of the best ways to address these deficiencies is by bringing timely federal funding and assistance back home. That’s where I have placed my focus, and an historic infrastructure bill that will deliver massive benefits to our state is now within reach.
For the past several months, I worked with nine other Senators to reach bipartisan consensus on traditional “core” infrastructure. Our bill will provide an additional $550 billion for these priorities over the next five years without raising taxes. It will increase our standard of living, create jobs and opportunities, and limit the inflation that threatens families and businesses.
I was able to add many provisions to our bipartisan bill that are targeted to help Alaska.
Alaska will receive billions of dollars to build, maintain, and upgrade our roads, railways, and address the more than 140 structurally deficient bridges in our state. To help meet some of our most pressing challenges, we create a set-aside for projects in rural Alaska.
Our bill recognizes that Alaskans often travel by air or water and invests in the lifelines that connect our communities—our Marine Highway System, ferries, ports, and small airports. The funding we receive will facilitate a new program for an essential ferry system and an electric or low-emitting ferry pilot program.
To make Alaska’s lack of water and wastewater infrastructure a thing of the past, we support the EPA’s Alaska Native Village Grant Program so that communities can build and improve their water systems. We also provide funding for Indian Health Services sanitation facilities to ensure our rural communities can finally have in-home running water and sewer service.
Given our increasingly connected world, our bill takes significant steps to bring broadband to high-cost rural areas, through both the Tribal Connectivity Grant Program and another for the construction, improvement, or acquisition of middle-mile infrastructure.
To address the twin challenges of high energy prices and climate change in Alaska, we prioritized energy infrastructure and resilience to help communities build cleaner, more reliable, and more affordable systems. In part, that means funding for my Energy Act, which Congress passed last year to drive innovation in everything from energy storage and renewable energy to carbon capture, grid modernization, and hydrogen.
Another area of emphasis is on rebuilding domestic supply chains. We included the permitting reforms I authored to help reverse our foreign mineral dependence, which we can begin to do by responsibly producing more critical minerals here in Alaska.
Our bipartisan bill also includes my language to ensure the Alaska natural gas pipeline project is eligible for a multi-billion dollar loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. This will help us navigate a crucial sticking point as we seek to commercialize the North Slope’s natural gas.
One more big win is with respect to wildfire preparedness. Significant funding is provided to support mechanical thinning and community wildfire defense grants. Streamlined NEPA permitting is included to build fuel breaks.
The items above are only the start of what our bipartisan bill contains for Alaska. But it’s important to distinguish it from what Congress will soon undertake—a wholly partisan abuse of the budget process that will spend up to $3.5 trillion, impose sweeping tax hikes that hit countless small businesses, and deliberately take economic opportunities away from Alaska. The partisan “reconciliation” process could not be more different from the approach we took on our bipartisan bill, where we focused on closing the distance between parties instead of amplifying it. Our bipartisan bill passed the Senate with nearly 70 votes and drew immense support from the Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO, and hundreds of other groups.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill is one of the most consequential legislative efforts I have worked on. It’s good for the nation and will deliver tremendous benefits to Alaska that pay forward for decades to come. This historic measure is now pending in the House of Representatives, where it should be taken up and passed without further delay. Our infrastructure demands it, and Alaskans deserve no less.
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski