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Better Neighbors | August 2016: Literacy

Submitted by Sean Hennigan on Thu, 08/25/2016 - 12:00pm

Our faith traditions call us to serve our care for the least of our brothers and love our neighbors. But the needs can seem overwhelming and it can be hard to get started. Better Neighbors is a monthly toolkit to help you and your congregation make a difference in your local community. Each month we focus on one area of need, giving you practical steps to take action and learn more. Better Neighbors is a project of Texas Impact, Texas' oldest and largest statewide interfaith network.


In the words of Frederick Douglass, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” Unfortunately, many Texans do not have the opportunity to experience this freedom. The stark reality is that our state falls at the bottom of the list in terms of literacy, ranking 47th among the 50 states. 3.3 million adult Texans are unable to fill out a job application, and this number is projected to grow—it is estimated that almost 8 million Texas will be eligible for adult education services by 2040, almost double the need in 2008. At the same time, according to the Texas Workforce Investment Council, people in need of adult education are severely underserved; only 2.6 percent of that population receives adequate instruction and resources.

The Impact of Low Literacy: Why does it matter?

Poverty & Public Assistance

  • Adults with lower literacy skills are more likely to be reliant on public assistance, including TANF and Medicaid. 
  • In 2003, 43 percent of adults with the lowest level of literacy skills were living in poverty, compared to only 4 percent of those with the highest level of skill. 

The Criminal Justice System

  • Low literacy and low educational attainment are highly correlated with higher crime rates.
  • Probationers who receive literacy training have significantly lower rearrest rates than those who don’t get help with literacy Those who obtain a GED have an even lower rearrest rate.

Jobs & The Economy

  • Adults with the lowest level of literacy skills earn a median income of approximately $240 per week, compared to $681 for those with the highest level of literacy skills.
  • Limited literacy skills cost businesses and taxpayers approximately $20 billion a year in lost wages, profits, and productivity. 

Children’s Literacy Skills

  • Adults with lower literacy skills are less likely to read to their children. Children who have not already developed basic literacy practices when they enter school are 3 to 4 times more likely to drop out of school in the long run.
  • A mother’s literacy level is one of the most significant predictors of a child’s future success in school. 70 percent of mothers receiving public assistance have literacy skills in the lowest two proficiency levels.
  • Children of adults who participate in literacy programs improve their grades and test scores, improve their reading skills, and are less likely to drop out of school.

Literacy is an important tool that helps people move out of poverty, thereby improving our economy, our community, and our individual lives. Adults need strong literacy skills to be good employees, to keep themselves and their families healthy, to avoid crime, and to be active, well-informed members of their communities. Finally, literate adults can raise children who have strong literacy skills.

Organizational Spotlight: Literacy Connexus

Literacy Connexus was established in 2004 to give voice to the millions of people in Texas who struggle to speak and read in English and to mobilize churches to meet those needs. At its conception, the focus of the organization was advocacy and adult literacy. However, the mission of Literacy Connexus expanded when its English as a Second Language (ESL) coordinator developed an award-winning statewide teacher training program called Teaching English with Excellence (TEX.) Today, the organization reaches approximately 15,000 adult students each week through TEX trained instructors.

A central part of Literacy Connexus’s work is a program called Books for the Border, which envisions every family in Texas owning and using a home library to foster early literacy. This project places Bibles, books, and bookcases in homes that lack any sort of reading materials. Through family reading fairs, it connects families to a local church and other helpful resources in the community. In addition, Literacy Connexus runs book banks around the state, conducts a Ready for School program for young refugee families, and offers myriad resources and guidance to church interested in starting adult literacy programs.

To learn more about the mission and programs of Literacy Connexus and how you and your community might engage in these efforts, visit

Understanding Texas Government: Policies, Agencies and Resources

capitol graphic

Texas Workforce Commission (TWC)

Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) is the state agency charged with overseeing and providing workforce development services to employers and job seekers of Texas. The major functions of TWC include: developing the workforce; providing support services, including child care, for targeted populations participating in workforce training; and administering unemployment benefits and tax programs.

TWC also provides information and analysis on shifts in occupations and industries within the state and seeks to reduce discrimination in employment and housing through education and enforcement of state and federal laws. Adult Education and Literacy programs funded by the TWC provide English language, math, reading, and writing instruction to help students acquire the skills needed to succeed in the workforce, earn a high school equivalency, or enter college or career training.

To learn more about TWC and its Adult Education and Literacy resources, visit:

Texas Education Agency (TEA)

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is the state agency that oversees primary and secondary public education. TEA, under the leadership of the commissioner of education, carries out the following functions, among others:

  • Administers the distribution of state and federal funding to public schools;
  • Administers the statewide assessment program and accountability system; and
  • Provides support to the State Board of Education (SBOE) in the development of the statewide curriculum.

TEA administers a program called the Texas Literacy Initiative (TLI), which aims to ensure that every Texas child is strategically prepared for college and career literacy demands by high school graduation. The TLI integrates and aligns early language and preliteracy skills for children from infancy to school entry. For students in grades K-12, the TLI emphasizes reading and writing instruction.

To learn more about TEA’s mission generally and TLI specifically, visit:

Building Knowledge

Literacy is the ability to read, write, compute, and use technology at a level that enables an individual to reach his or her full potential as a parent, employee, and/or community member. Functional Illiteracy describes reading and writing skills that are inadequate to manage daily living or employment tasks that require skills beyond a very basic level. Illiteracy, in the most fundamental sense, means the inability to read or write simple sentences in any language.

Find literacy providers near you by using the directory developed by the Texas Center for the Advancement of Literacy and Learning (TCALL).

More broadly, find providers of other types of adult education in your county by navigating this interactive map created by TCALL.

Learn who is using adult education resources in Texas. TCALL provides statistics that describe the ethnicity, gender, age, and educational functioning level of those receiving adult education in Texas.

For access to more extensive research and reports on adult education and literacy efforts in Texas, visit the Texas Workforce Investment Council page on the Office of the Governor’s site.

Open your congregational space to various kinds of adult education. This education could be conducted in partnership with other community organizations or be the result of new initiatives supported by your congregation. Examples of this could include the following:

  • Offer specialized classes in computer proficiency and financial education;
  • Partner with a local service provider to offer medical screenings, medication management information, and other health-related services to people in your community;
  • Organize an adult literacy program that focuses on reading and GED preparation;
  • Partner and/or with a local organization that provides citizenship education.

Establish a library in your house of worship and use it as a hub of literacy activity. During this process, consider inviting youth to be “literacy ambassadors” by building bookcases and collecting books.

Partner with local schools and ask how you might engage in volunteer activities that support the development of reading skills. Consider organizing people from your faith community to read to classes or become mentors for at-risk students.

Develop a mentoring program in your congregation’s youth and/or children’s ministry.

Are there low-income families in your neighborhood or city in need of health benefits and food assistance? Is your congregation interested in being more involved in the community and helping families find public services?

If so, the Community Partner Program is a great opportunity for you!

Texans can apply online for public benefits such as health care (Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program [CHIP]), cash assistance (TANF), and food assistance (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) through, the online application portal hosted by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC).

Recognizing that many low-income families do not have Internet access or might need additional help, the Community Partner Program is a state initiative where HHSC will provide training and other support to your congregation so they can assist low-income families applying for benefits on

HHSC’s Community Partner Recruitment Initiative (CPRI) staff provides information about CPP to faith and other local nonprofit organizations Community Partner Program and can help you join the program. For example, Texas Impact is part of CPRI and has a team of AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers in offices throughout Texas who would love the opportunity to come speak about the program with your faith group or lead a presentation or event for the local community at your organization.

For more information, contact Andrea Earl at or Scott Atnip at

Texas Impact logo

Texas Impact is a statewide religious grassroots network whose members include individuals, congregations and governing bodies of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. Texas Impact exists to advance state public policies that are consistent with universally held social principles of the Abrahamic traditions. When you join Texas Impact, you add your voice to more than two-dozen Christian, Jewish and Muslim denominational bodies, as well as hundreds of local congregations, ministerial alliances and interfaith networks, and thousands of people of faith throughout Texas.


Christian Church (Disciples of Christ): Bluebonnet Area, Southwest Region, Trinity- Brazos Area • Episcopal Church: Diocese of West Texas, Diocese of Fort Worth • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA): Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod, Southwestern Texas Synod, Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod • Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): Mission Presbytery, Palo Duro Presbytery, Tres Rios Presbytery • United Methodist Church: Central Texas Conference, North Texas Conference, Northwest Texas Conference, Rio Texas Conference, Texas Conference • Methodist Federation for Social Action: Rio Texas Chapter, Central Texas Chapter • United Church of Christ: South Central Conference • Society of Friends: South Central Yearly Meeting • Texas Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry • Church Women United • United Methodist Women • CitySquare • Dominican Sisters of Houston • Interfaith Action of Central Texas • Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston • Islamic Circle of North America • Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas • National Council of Jewish Women • North Texas Islamic Council • Socially Responsible Investment Coalition • Tarrant Churches Together • Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation • Union Baptist Fellowship


President-Reverend Dr. Whitney Bodman | Vice President-Richard Ertel | Secretary-Amanda Quraishi

Treasurer-Reverend Jim McClain | Executive Director-Bee Moorhead