Read the room

The New Partnership Fighting Houston's Illiteracy Problem

Thousands of adults in the city are functionally illiterate. Houston’s Adult Literacy Blueprint aims to address that.

By Raven Wuebker June 3, 2021 Published in the Summer 2021 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Because one in three adults in Houston is functionally illiterate—meaning they lack the necessary skills to participate and engage fully in the workplace and society—the Mayor’s Office for Adult Literacy (MOAL) and the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation have joined forces this year to combat adult illiteracy and the implications surrounding it head on. We had some questions.

What will the new partnership do exactly?

The public-private partnership will create Houston’s Adult Literacy Blueprint, the city’s first-ever coordinated, strategic plan to help bring much-needed language, digital literacy, and essential workforce skill development to hundreds of thousands of adult Houstonians.

“This blueprint will serve as a document for us to plan for literacy for the next 15 years,” Federico Salas-Isnardi, the director of MOAL, tells Houstonia.

And because they shared the same vision, “the foundation stepped up and said we would fund it,” says its president, Julie Baker Finck. Its six-figure investment in the blueprint is aided by corporate partners, including Deloitte and the Greater Houston Community Foundation.

How will the blueprint directly help Houstonians?

The blueprint could be a boost for our current adult literacy nonprofits and bring new learning methods to Houston. There are approximately 60 local adult literacy organizations, but the pandemic has taken its toll—many lack resources in a good year, says Salas-Isnardi, and the push to digital learning only presented more challenges.

The pandemic also shone a light on Houston’s digital divide. According to the blueprint’s executive summary, released in April, 142,650 households do not have a computer at home and almost twice that do not have broadband internet access. The blueprint will aim to address this. “We know there is going to be an emphasis around family literacy and around digital literacy,” Finck says.

They also hope to provide a better awareness of the impacts of functional literacy, introduce new programs and shared learning systems across organizations, and boost employability to help break the cycles on inequity in the city.

So what happens now?

MOAL and the foundation spent five months talking to focus groups and gathering input from nonprofit, government, philanthropic, education, and business leaders to create the blueprint, also drawing upon a report the foundation released in 2014 as “a launching pad,” says Salas-Isnardi. 

The blueprint will be published in June. At that time, says Finck, “We’ll put a financial plan around it for the next couple of years.”

After that? “We hope the document is a rallying call.”

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