[NLA] Massachusetts Update (long)
David J. Rosen
DJRosen at world.std.com
Fri Dec 14 08:15:42 EST 2001
I mentioned in an earlier message to the NLA list that, before
Thanksgiving, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a FY02 state budget
that would bring publicly-funded adult education to a screeching halt.
They cut state adult basic education funds by 44%, and because this
would be put into effect halfway through the year, funding would run out
in January or February for most publicly-funded programs.
Yesterday the Legislature passed, and sent on to the Acting Governor for
her signature, a supplemental budget which will restore $12.5M, all but
$500,000 of the $13M cut from adult basic education in the state budget
passed in November.
This is a dramatic turnaround, a victory for students and practitioners,
labor and business, and for the Legislature, Acting Governor and the
While there are many theories of why the leadership of the Legislature
proposed such a drastic cut in the first place, one thing was clear:
they were out of touch with the will of the legislative rank and file,
and with many of their constituents. The tidal wave response to this
cut, across the Commonwealth was fast, clear, and consistent: restore
these funds. They heard the message and made restoration of adult
education funds -- during a time of serious decline is state revenues --
one of their top three priorities.
How did the Massachusetts Adult Education Community reverse these cuts?
In a few words: organization, collaboration, leadership, and a
cultivated climate of advocacy at the grass roots level.
For well over a decade, the Massachusetts Coalition for Adult Education
(MCAE) and its predecessor, the Massachusetts Coalition for Adult
Literacy, have encouraged practitioners to educate policy makers --
state representatives and senators -- about the importance of adult
literacy/basic education (including ESOL). Year after year, programs
have built relationships with legislators through letters and post
cards, phone calls, visits, invitations to attend graduations, and in
other ways. Increasingly, adult learners have also become involved in
these efforts, and now, a statewide adult learner leadership
organization, the Massachusetts Alliance for Adult Literacy (Mass AAL),
has added to the strength of practitioners' efforts.
MCAE is well organized. The Public Policy Committee uses e-mail, fax,
phone and mail to reach its members. A phone tree and, especially in
this effort, electronic lists have been helpful. The creation of a
campaign steering committee (the Public Policy Committee), and
subcommittees on media, collaboration, legislative options, and five
regional committees moved the campaign forward. This could not have
happened if we had not, over the years, built these tools for
organizing, earned the trust of the field, and worked with other
organizations to collaborate.
For example, within two days, collaborating with a foundation, and a
statewide public policy research and advocacy group we put together a
press briefing at the State House with a panel of 12 major business,
labor, foundation and adult learner leaders. Everyone spoke briefly and
persuasively. They all urged restoration of funding. The State House
hearing room was overflowing. At least six media outlets showed up,
including a major TV station. It was gratifying to see representatives
of Verizon, IBM, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, The
Massachusetts Business Roundtable, the Carpenters Union, SEIU, the
AFL-CIO, and the Teamsters Union all in agreement, all urging
restoration. Collaboration was echoed throughout statewide, regional and
local community efforts.
Leadership came from everywhere: the Massachusetts Department of
Education; SABES (the statewide staff development system); the
Massachusetts Coalition for Adult Education, major foundations, business
and labor; regional coalitions of adult education programs, and from
individual programs across the state. Some of the most creative,
effective and sustained efforts, those which caught Legislators'
attention, were carried out by students and practitioners from
individual programs. These involved massive numbers of telephone calls
and mail to legislators, but also visits to their offices. These
activities were described by several State House observers as "one of
the most impressive mobilizations we have ever seen at the State House"
and as "classy." Our tone was usually polite, but firm about the
importance of restoring these services.
What did we learn?
1. Most important: with organization, leadership, and determination,
adult literacy education can make gains at the state level -- and
2. Advocacy must be seen as part of every practitioner's job: teacher,
tutor, administrator, researcher, curriculum developer, librarian, and others;
3. The roles which students play are very important. Theirs are the
voices which Legislators listen to most attentively. Students are -- of
course -- much greater in numbers, and with their help thousands of
letters and phone calls are possible.
4. Even under normal circumstances advocacy is an excellent way in
which to learn about democracy in action. Under these extraordinary
circumstances, with widespread involvement of students, the groundwork
has been laid for months or years of passionate study of government.
(Look for Massachusetts' students to score high on the GED social
studies test in the next few years.)
As one contribution to the learning process, several teachers and
curriculum developers created some excellent lessons and materials to
help students understand the processes of government which were directly
affecting their lives. These, and other campaign-related materials
which may be useful to other states facing cutbacks, will be found at
It's hard to say. We think we have the attention of policy makers and
the media. We hope they will be reluctant to cut funding in next year's
budget -- which may be further reduced because of tax cuts and more
declines expected in state revenue. The struggle for this fiscal year
has nearly ended, and adult literacy education appears to have
prevailed. But we know that there will be more challenges ahead -- and
we are committed not just to restoring funding, but to increasing it --
until all Massachusetts adults seeking these services can get a high
quality education without having to be put on a lengthy waiting list.
Our work is cut out for us, but for the time being we celebrate, and
hope that our effort may provide inspiration for other states who are
facing (or will face) the same challenges.
David J. Rosen
<DJRosen at theworld.com>
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