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A Tremendous Victory for Colorado’s Diverse Adult Learner Population


by Paula Schriefer, Colorado Newsline
June 22, 2023

Colorado’s adult education system just got a huge boost through enactment of Senate Bill 23-7, signed by Gov. Jared Polis on June 2.

This important bill enhances adult education in Colorado by tripling dedicated state funding, adding digital literacy to the definition of adult education, allowing community, local, and technical colleges to confer high school diplomas, and streamlining reporting requirements for providers.

For Colorado’s adult learners and providers alike, this victory has been a very long time coming.

I’ve witnessed the pervasive need for the kinds of improvements made in SB-7 throughout my tenure as president and CEO of Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning, a long-standing provider of adult education that serves hundreds of diverse students every year. When I joined Spring Institute almost nine years ago, Colorado was the only place in the country failing to appropriate any state-level funding for adult education. As retired state director of adult education for the Colorado Department of Education and current Spring Institute Board Chair Margaret Kirkpatrick has explained in legislative testimony, this made it extremely difficult to provide adequate services to many community members hoping to advance their basic education, attain a high school equivalency, or improve their English skills.

In 2014, advocates and legislative champions came together to successfully pass House Bill 14-1085, designating nearly $1 million in state funds for adult education annually through the Adult Education and Literacy Grant Program. That was certainly a win, but that amount stayed flat for almost a decade, and Colorado remained an extreme outlier in terms of our low levels of support for adult learners. By comparison, states receiving similar amounts of federal adult education funding as Colorado have committed up to 20 times more state dollars to bolster their programs. For example, Arkansas, Kentucky and Oregon contributed $18.5 million, over $11 million, and more than $36 million to their respective programs in fiscal year 2020.

In short, adult education drives success across generations.

In recognition of the multigenerational impact of adult education, Colorado also took a step forward in 2020 when bipartisan Senate Bill 20-9 expanded grant eligibility to adult education collaborations geared toward two-generational, family literacy approaches delivered in partnership with elementary, secondary, or higher education providers. Temporary extra funding provided through the American Rescue Plan Act has also been helpful, yet far too much unmet need persists.

As it stands, the Colorado Department of Education reports that over 300,000 adult Coloradans do not have a high school credential and, of those, 41% have less than even a ninth grade education. According to 2019 census data tracked by The Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Center, 10% of Colorado children live in a home with a head of household who does not have a high school diploma. Meanwhile, Migration Policy Institute has found that over a quarter (27%) of Colorado children ages 0-5 are dual language learners who have at least one parent who speaks a language other than English at home and, out of those, 44% have at least one parent with limited English proficiency.

Adult education is the catalyst for these Coloradans to secure higher-quality jobs with wages and benefits to adequately support themselves and their families. After all, adults with a high school education or higher are more likely to work full time and high school completion can increase median annual income by over $7,000. Along with putting adults in a better position to contribute to the state’s workforce and economy and opening doors to continued educational attainment, higher levels of literacy for parents are also associated with better school performance among their children. In short, adult education drives success across generations.

That is why Spring Institute and partners from Colorado Center on Law and Policy and Skills2Compete Colorado convened the Colorado Adult Education Coalition in support of SB-7. We’re proud of this strong bipartisan collaboration led by prime sponsors Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, Rep. Cathy Kipp, and Rep. Marc Catlin. Enactment of SB-7 is a tremendous victory for Colorado’s diverse adult learner population and the dedicated providers who serve them. With so many children, families and neighbors in the extended communities where adult learners make their livelihoods also standing to benefit, this is one of the most valuable investments the state can make.

While its enactment was a long time coming, proponents of SB-7 can now look forward to how its implementation will facilitate success and promote shared prosperity in Colorado for generations to come.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.