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Cultivate Congressional Advocates | Create Effective Hooks
Share Needs and Successes | Make an Ask | Cinch the Commitment

What to Say and How

Cultivate Congressional Advocates

photo of David J. Valesky speaking with Donna Valerino

On March 3, 2008, Literacy New York (LNY) hosted a Legislative Reception in Albany, New York to address potential cuts in Adult Literacy Education (ALE) funding and to request that New York State invest an additional $2 million to enhance the Adult Literacy Education Program throughout NYS.  New York State Senator David J. Valesky speaks with Donna Valerino, Executive Director of Literacy Volunteers of Greater Syracuse, about adult literacy needs in Onondaga County.

Adult education and literacy needs advocates in Congress.
Adult education and literacy needs legislators who will proactively champion our cause. Legislators who will:

  • Co-sponsor legislation
  • Co-sponsor or sign dear colleague letters
  • Make well-placed calls, write letters, and step forward to support adult literacy
  • Vote for increased funding or for legislation supported by a consensus from the field
  • Support adult education and literacy even though it may mean cutting back on support someplace else

You have an important role in creating Congressional advocates.
You are your legislators’ “constituent.” You vote. They need to know what you think so they can represent you and your opinion in Congress. Your goal is to become a dependable resource for your legislators on adult education and literacy issues in your community.

By connecting adult education and literacy to their issues and following up, they will tap you as a resource when issues affecting adult education and literacy are up for consideration in Congress.

What types of information do legislators want and need?
According to Lynn Selmser, policy analyst for the National Council of State Directors of Adult Education, legislators want:

Data: Show legislators that adult education programs work. A program administrator or teacher might present the legislative aide or legislator with program data. These advocates also supplement data with district or state fact sheets to show that local adult education and literacy issues are reflected statewide and nationally. See District and State Facts for examples.

Personal Success Stories:
Legislators want to hear from adult learners about their educational successes and needs. Adult learners help legislators see how literacy has impacted their lives. See the Adult Learner section for adult learner guides on communicating with legislators. See the Teacher and Tutor section for ways that instructors can help adult learners write, call, or meet with legislators.


  1. Create effective hooks.
  2. Share needs and successes.
  3. Make an Ask.
  4. Cinch the commitment.


1. Create Effective Hooks

What do I say to get their attention?
Identify your legislators’ issues by learning about their background, the committees they serve, and their related interests. Craft a compelling message to hook into their issues. Here are some examples of hooks, based in part on Creating Congressional Advocates by Lynn Selmser:

Jobs and the Economy
More than one million of those who lost their jobs in 2008 are low-skilled; one in seven adults nationally cannot complete a job application. Adult education gives adults skills they need to get and keep good jobs with family-sustaining wages.


Meeting Workforce Needs
In 2005, the Department of Labor reported 150,000,000 people in the US workforce; each year approximately, 3,000,000 youth graduate from high school.  If all entered the workforce, they would only meet 2% of the country's workforce needs. We need to educate today’s workforce in order to be competitive in the global market.

At best, only 2% of the workforce need is met by high school graduates. The vast majority of workers are currently in the workforce now and many have skills gaps.  We need to educate today's adults to adapt to the changing economy, to be able to work with current and emerging technologies, and to find lasting jobs with sustainable wages. You can’t compete if you don’t have a skilled workforce.

According to the National Institute for Literacy, American businesses lose more than $60 billion in productivity each year due to employees’ basic skills gaps. We need to keep jobs from going overseas and we need an educated workforce. Adult education is key to keeping America competitive.

Adult education leads to self-sufficiency, reduces welfare rolls and helps reduce the number of people living in poverty and depending on government benefit programs. 

Participation in correctional education reduces re-arrest, re-convictions, and re-incarceration.

Proper health care keeps families working and children in school. Forty-six percent of American adults cannot read and follow medical instructions (American Medical Association). According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, senior citizens have the most difficulty.

Children’s Education
Children’s literacy levels are strongly linked to the educational level of their parents, especially their mother. Adult education helps parents to be their child’s first and most important teacher.

Out-of-School Youth
Every school day, nearly 7,000 American high school students drop out. Drop outs are generally less healthy, at greater risk of committing crime, have trouble finding and keeping good jobs, and are more likely to become parents at very young ages (Alliance for Excellent Education). The “first chance” system is not enough. Adult education can be a pipeline to keep youth on a pathway towards success.

English Language Learning/Immigration Reform
Adult education helps new immigrants learn the English language, prepare for citizenship, and become an integral part of American society.

How do I learn which issues concern my legislator?
Visit your legislators’ web sites to find their issues; read their newest press releases to quickly learn about their recent activities. Check out the following books from your local library or purchase one or more copies for your advocacy or policy committee. These books provide bibliographic information, committee assignments, election results, congressional district maps, voting trends, an analysis of each legislator’s voting priorities, and more:

Koszczuk, J. & Angle, M. (2008). Politics in America 2008. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.

Barone, M., & Cohen, M.E. (2008). Almanac of American Politics, 2008. Washington, D.C.: National Journal Group.

2. Share Needs and Successes.

Never be afraid
to ask:
You don’t get what you don’t ask for.

Remind your legislator of the magnitude of the need for adult education and literacy and celebrate your successes. Visit the Fact Finder for facts; see Research and Reports for an in-depth perspective on any of these issues.

3.  Make an “Ask

In order to get a commitment, you must ask! Never be afraid to ask: You don’t get what you don’t ask for. Don’t leave the conversation without making some sort of Ask. You do not always need to lobby with an Ask; rather, you can make a request that provides an opportunity for you to follow up.

  • Would you please find out if the Senator will…
  • May I touch base with you in a couple of weeks on…
  • Will the Congresswoman review draft legislation the NCL is writing on this issue?

If the answer is “No” then find out what the legislator or aide can do. Remember, they want to help; finding out how they can is the first step in the right direction.

What are some examples of “non-lobbying” Asks?
You could ask your legislator to get involved in adult education and literacy in a number of ways. Consider asking your legislator to:

  • Visit your program and meet with adult learners.
  • Serve on your program’s board of directors.
  • Write about adult education and literacy for your organization’s newspaper.
  • Publish an article about adult education and literacy in his or her newsletter that goes out to the legislators’ constituents. In either of these instances, provide the legislator a draft article that his or her staff may revise and publish.
  • Promote adult education and literacy in public speaking engagements and encourage lifelong learning.

4. Cinch the Commitment

Follow through with your Ask. Provide resources. Offer clarification. Refer staff to experts if you do not have the answers. Thank them for their time and thank them when they support you. Report back what you learned to your advocacy network leaders. They will report it back up to national advocacy leaders who will then follow up on the leads you present.

Visit Contacting Legislators for more tips on calling, writing, or meeting with them.

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