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The terms listed below are legislative and advocacy terms you will find in the NCL Advocacy Clearinghouse and Toolkit. To learn additional terms about Congress, here are a few options to explore:

U.S. Senate Glossary
The U.S. Senate Glossary provides a comprehensive listing of terms used in the Senate.
At you can find a wide variety of online civics resources, a library, online text book, glossary, and materials for teachers.

Glossary term


Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA)

Also known as the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), Title II, authorizes (establishes the structure, purpose and goals for) federally funded adult education and literacy programs.

adult education and literacy programs

Those programs funded wholly or in part by Title II of the Workforce Investment Act. Some also call these programs the AELS, or “Adult Education and Literacy System.” This definition leaves out many programs that do not receive funding from the Office of Vocation and Adult Education (OVAE), Division of Adult Education and Literacy (DAEL), including some state programs and some charitable programs (e.g., some ProLiteracy, some non-governmental and community-based organizations, some library programs and others). However, the U.S. does not have a comprehensive statement about how many of these programs exist, how many they serve annually, or how much per enrollee funding they obtain.


Includes identifying, embracing, and promoting a cause; any attempt to shape public opinion, and promote the interests of your community. (The Lobbying and Advocacy Handbook for Nonprofit Organizations)


A proposal to alter the text of a pending bill or other measure by striking out some of it, by adding new language, or both. Before an amendment becomes part of the measure, the House or Senate must agree to it.

the Ask

The request advocates make of legislators. The Ask may take one of two forms: a lobby and non-lobby Ask. A “lobby” Ask is direct or grassroots lobbying. It is a request one makes of a legislator to take action on a specific piece of legislation or appropriation. A “non-lobby” Ask might simply be a request for information from legislators, a request to call back to follow up on issues, etc.


Appropriations provide funds for programs. It is an allotment of a specific amount of money for specific programs or purposes. The Coalition is asking for increases in appropriations for adult education and literacy in order to increase access to services.

appropriations subcommittee

A subcommittee is a sub-unit of a committee that divides the committee’s workload.  The appropriations subcommittee conducts the detailed work of the appropriations committee.Recommendations of the subcommittee must be approved by the full committee before being reported to the House or Senate.

authorizing legislation, authorize, authorizes

Legislation that establishes the structure, purpose, and goals for a program, like the adult education and literacy program “authorized” by the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act.

bully pulpit

A platform from which to advocate an agenda.

caucus Congressional caucuses are organizations for Members of Congress to advance causes that are important to them. A House caucus is a group of Members of the U.S. House of Representatives who share something in common, whether personal (ex: the Congressional Hispanic Caucus), related to a district’s needs (the Congressional Rural Caucus) or about House Members’ interests or concerns, like the new Adult Literacy Caucus.
consensus, consensus-driven legislative agenda Consensus is a unanimous agreement. A “consensus-driven” legislative agenda are the legislative issues that all members of a group, like the National Coalition for Literacy, have unanimously agreed to support or oppose. A cornerstone of the Coalition’s advocacy is to reach consensus (unanimous agreement) on issues. When many voices send the same message to Congress on an issue, we are united on that issue. Our voices are heard and we are more likely to influence the outcome. But if Congress hears conflicting messages from the field, the field appears disorganized. It sends the message to Congress that we are divided. Members of Congress are then less likely to support us on that issue. If a groundswell of advocacy is all over the map, not organized and coordinated, and if it happens to be working at cross purposes, then legislators will ignore it. What else could they do? They will not have heard the "voice" of the field; they will have heard a cacophony of disagreeing voices, cancelling each other out. Thus, it is critical to achieve consensus in advocacy.


People who live in a Congressional district or state are the “constituents” of the legislator elected from that district or state. Legislators want and need to hear from their constituents so that they can best represent them in Congress. Your legislator needs to hear from you in order to represent your views.

“Dear Colleague” letter

A dear colleague is an "in-house" method for Congressional Members to communicate with other Members. It has multiple uses, such as:

  • encouraging them to sign joint letters in support of a particular bill;
  • asking them to cosponsor legislation;
  • encouraging their support for a floor amendment; or
  • sharing information from their district, such as a news article or an event.

In the instance of Dear Colleague letters on appropriations issues, the Chairs of the appropriations committees and most Members of the appropriations committees typically do not initiate a Dear Colleague letter or sign on to letters to the appropriations committee because it would be like writing or signing a letter to yourself. Instead, they let their funding priorities be known during deliberations with other Members, comments to committee staff, etc. But in general, co-sponsoring or signing on to a Dear Colleague letter for adult education appropriations is an example of how your legislator can be proactive on adult education and literacy issues.

direct lobbying

Requesting legislators to take action on specific legislation.


Communicating the issues to legislators; for example, the successes, need and demand for services, and personal experiences.

grassroots lobbying

Urging others to contact their legislator requesting action on specific legislation.


A statement which connects adult education and literacy to legislators’ interests or issues.


Laws. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary


One that makes laws. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

legislative aide

Also known as LAs, legislative aides assist the legislator by listening to his or her constituents, conducting research, and advising the legislator on issues. LAs need someone knowledgeable about adult literacy in your community to share adult literacy successes and needs with them. Sometimes it may be more important to speak with the legislator’s LA over education since this LA advises the legislator on adult education issues!


1. A specific, legally defined activity that involves stating your position on specific legislation to legislators and/or asking them to support your position. (Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest)
2. Combining “educating” on the issues with a lobbying Ask.


When a bill is developed and signed into law, it 'authorizes' or allows certain activities to be carried out and paid for. A bill is usually 'authorized' for a set amount of time; for example, for five years. At the end of the five years, Congress can choose to write an entirely new bill or 'reauthorize' the original. If it opts to reauthorize the original bill, they may change items in the bill that promise to make it more effective. What happens if the time limit runs out and the bill is not reauthorized? In most cases, unless there is a protest from Congress, programs continue to operate under the original bill until it is reauthorized.
subcommittee A subcommittee is a sub-unit of a committee that divides the committee’s workload.

threshold numbers

Number of responses for or against a particular issue. The threshold number helps legislators know whether a significant number of their constituents hold one view or another on an issue. It helps legislators determine which issues are important to their constituents, and which view on an issue is most prominent. Legislators are not alerted that an issue is important until the number of contacts reaches the threshold number.

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