1. Hernando

Column: Hernando County needs adult literacy programs

If you had a reading level equal to a second-grader, what would applying for a job look like? What types of employment would be available to you?

If your math skills were below the most basic level, what would managing your monthly bills look like? If you lacked confidence in your command of the language, would you ask questions at your child's open house at school?

More than 36 million Americans cannot read or write at the most basic level, and more than 60 million Americans struggle with basic math computations. According to estimates collected from the 2010 U.S. Census, more than 18,000 adults in Hernando County do not have a high school diploma or its equivalency. Since the collection of that census data, Hernando Adult Education has helped more than 7,500 students, but our work is not done.

When we look at the economic needs of the state of Florida, we are reminded that as our population continues to grow, the number of jobs needed to employ our new residents also will grow.

Recently, there has been an increased emphasis on workforce education and providing quick pathways into skilled jobs. As we continue to put an emphasis in strengthening the middle class and growing jobs in the state of Florida, we must be cautious to move ahead without ignoring the obvious gap — basic literacy.

More than 9 million adults are not in the workforce because they do not have a high school diploma. For this large group of untapped potential employees, basic literacy is the most significant barrier to employment.

Funding for adult education literacy programs must keep up with the demand. For every dollar invested in adult education, communities reap some $60 back in increased payroll and property taxes, reduced demand for social services and even savings on criminal justice and healthcare. Low skilled adults are two times more likely to be unemployed, eight times as likely to be in poverty, four times as likely to be in poor health and eight times as likely to be incarcerated.

September 22-28 is Adult Education and Family Literacy Week. Students, teachers and community members will meet to discuss the growing need for adult literacy programs. They will work together to raise awareness and improve offerings.

If you run a business compelled to be part of the solution, motivate and support employees to take part in adult literacy programs. As an individual or an agency, include adult basic education in the growing conversation about workforce education.

You also can join the local conversation at a monthly Literacy Coalition meeting at the Adult Education Office. Call (352) 797-7018 for more information about the meeting and our programs.

Sophia Watson, supervisor of adult and technical education for the Hernando County School District