Guest Blog: Mark Mesle, Cook County Clerk’s Office

ChicaGO Vote header

Literacy programs help their learners find their voices.  Whether it is writing an email with newfound confidence, putting together a resume or helping their kids with their homework, learners feel the empowerment that comes from improved literacy.  

The Cook County Clerk’s office and the Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition are partnering to help learners find their voice and feel that same sense of empowerment on Election Day.

Our two offices have collaborated on ChicaGO Vote!, a handout that outlines key information about the March 20th Primary.  It is a simple and succinct guide to the Gubernatorial Primary that includes key dates, FAQs, registration options, the offices on the ballot, information about early voting, mail voting and Election Day itself.  The ChicaGO Vote! guide walks the reader through each step of the voting process, making it easier for adult learners to participate in the upcoming election.

But as with so many steps in literacy education, this information needs to be combined with the self-confidence that adult learners deserve to be heard. We want to alleviate those doubts that many students might have that their vote doesn’t matter, that they might embarrass themselves in some way in the polling place or that they don’t understand enough about the political process to cast a ballot. The ChicaGO Vote! guide aims to empower adult students to exercise their voting rights and make their voices heard in the upcoming election.

To help prepare students for the election, we have also created a PowerPoint that can be used to facilitate discussion not only on this election but the history of voting rights, how elections impact them and what other steps learners can take to take part in the democratic process.  From writing letters to elected officials to reading policy positions, there is no shortage of ways to combine civics and literacy in lesson plans.

We hope that in these conversations students can convince themselves and one another that regardless of their background or income, democracy benefits when everyone is involved.

Click here to download the ChicaGO Vote! 2018 toolkit. For more information about the guide and the corresponding PowerPoint, contact Jazmine.

Guest Blog: Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia

Chicago City Clerk Anna ValenciaAs Chicago’s City Clerk, I am responsible for overseeing one of the largest offices in the City of Chicago that interacts with over a million residents every single year. When I was sworn-in on January 25, 2017, I made it my mission to help create more access to city services not just for the 1.2 million people that interact with our office every year but also for the 2.7 million residents of our City. That’s why I am proud to partner with Mayor Emanuel to create and run the Chicago Municipal ID program that will offer Chicago residents the option to get a government-issued ID.

In mid-September we announced, that the Municipal ID will not just be a government-issued form of identification but can also be used as your Chicago library card and Chicago transit card. For Chicago’s Adult learners, this is an exciting development as it reduces barriers not only to get a valid government ID but also to create access to Chicago Public Library’s vast network of libraries and online resources.

This card will be available to all Chicago residents regardless of prison record, gender designation or housing or immigration status. Much like the Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition’s commitment to helping refugees feel at home in their community, the Municipal ID program is committed to making sure that all Chicagoan’s can access the many great things Chicago has to offer where this City is a new home or one that their family has called home for generations.

The goal of the Municipal ID-card is to create more access for all of our City’s residents – whether it’s riding the El, checking out a book at the library or needing to show ID to get into a school. It’s an indicator that we are all part of one community and that we are all Chicagoans.

We have found that the best policy is made from the ground up. This program has been developed by the people and for the people through community roundtables, meetings with advocates, nonprofits, and legal experts. We’d love to hear your input too. If you’d like to learn more about the Municipal ID or to sign-up for periodic updates on the program, please visit our website. You can also follow us on social media @ChiCityClerk. We look forward to hearing from you and creating a program that’s inclusive of all Chicagoans.

Data-to-Action Summit: May 1, 2017


How do the nearly 500,000 adults with skills gaps access career pathways programming in Chicago? What supports can help adults enter these programs and move into a well-paying career?

On May 1st, the Coalition attempted to answer those questions by hosting its first-ever Data-to-Action Summit where we shared preliminary research findings and recommendations from our research project with Penn State University, Career Pathways Programming for Lower-Skilled Adults and Immigrants: A Comparative Analysis of Adult Education Providers in High-Need Cities. The project, a partnership between researchers at the Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy at Penn State University and practitioners at the Coalition, the Houston Center for Literacy, and the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, assessed how adults with skills gaps access career pathways programs in Chicago, Houston, and Miami. The event brought together dozens of practitioners and key stakeholders to discuss the findings and create concrete next steps to move the research findings to action. A special thank you to JPMorgan Chase for hosting the Summit at Chase Tower.

EstherspresentationThe two-year study, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (grant #R305HI50047), surveyed 106 adult education programs that collectively serve 282,000 participants. Additionally, 18 programs participated in focus groups, and six programs will be featured in case studies to understand how they design and implement career pathways and what lessons this might offer other programs. The study revealed information about how adult learners access career pathways, the types of support services offered by programs, and adult learner outcomes. Read our preliminary findings and recommendations below.


Most career pathways classes have a minimum test score, grade level, or language thresholds for enrollment. About 69% of career pathways students placed at a beginning to low intermediate adult basic education (ABE) or English as a Second Language (ESL) level. Minimum threshold requirements may create barriers for adults with lower placement scores or levels of education; adult learners need to have viable on-ramps to access career pathways programming. Effective policy should aim to serve the hardest-to-reach students, and policy makers should support facilitating partnerships so students can access the programs they need.

Support Services

markandoswaldo Exemplary programs offer a full range of support services and programmatic features to address student barriers. Offering comprehensive services goes beyond supports that mitigate traditional barriers such as transportation and childcare. Exemplary programs offered supports that addressed other aspects of learners’ lives, like bad credit and lack of access to income supports. Policy makers should aim to increase funding for robust services to help programs offer services that address adult learners’ well-being.


Interim outcomes help programs create effective pathways because they measure student progress towards longer-term goals. Throughout the research, a lack of common measures across programs stood out as a barrier to measuring progress across programs. The most common measures were educational level gains on standardized tests (85%), attaining a high school or GED diploma (67%), and obtaining initial employment (55%). For pathways to be effective organizations will need to put measures in place to capture interim outcomes, and funders and policy makers should prioritize the importance of these interim outcomes.


To learn more about the research, visit the project’s website, found here. To access resources from the May 1st event, including the powerpoint presentation, click here.

Interested in moving this data to action? Join our Career Pathways Advisory Council of practitioners and other stakeholders! For more information, contact Alex at

Clearing Up Misconceptions About Muslim Refugees

On Monday, President Donald Trump signed a new executive order issuing a 90-day ban on travel from six majority Muslim countries – Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, and Libya. This new order is a revised version of the President’s first Executive Order addressing travel and visas, which was blocked by the U.S. Court of Appeals. The Coalition believes that hate has no home in the United States and we support immigrants and refugees on their quest to achieving the American Dream.

When refugees arrive to the U.S., they seek out resettlement services, including adult education. During 2014, 56% of students in a state-administered adult education program in Illinois were English Language Learners. The Muslim refugee population peaked in 2016, representing 46% of all refugees admitted into the country. As providers, we can be the first to see the potential in our students and provide resources to help them succeed. It’s important for us to check our own biases and learn about the growing muslim refugee population.

This executive order will only fuel hate and discrimination, despite the large evidence that Muslims and refugees are less likely to commit crimes and act as terrorists. Less than 1% of Muslim Americans are linked to violent domestic terrorism, according to a study from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Furthermore, according to the Cato Institute, not a single refugee from the six countries included in the travel ban have gone on to commit acts of terror. An American has a 1 in 3.6 billion chance of being killed in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee.

The decision to abandon one’s homeland is not made lightly; it can come as the result of war, famine, economic struggles, and many other hardships. The journey to American soil can cause families to sail thousands of miles under the midnight Mediterranean sky and endure a grueling 18 to 24 month vetting process which includes multiple interviews with U.S. Immigration officials and a full health screening. Thousands of people from across the globe risk their lives for safety and stability by leaving their home countries and they should be met with empathy and understanding.

Refugee communities, particularly in the Rust Belt, have been shown to offset population decline and breathe new life into aging communities. Cities like Utica, New York, where nearly a quarter of all families are refugees, have credited the new population with revitalizing the slumping economy. In Cleveland, Ohio, refugees added nearly $48 million to the local economy in 2012. Immigrants and refugees can play a key role in neighborhood revitalization because they tend to pursue business ventures that are often overlooked by native-born citizens. According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, 28% of Main Street businesses nationally (like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and beauty salons) are owned by immigrants. These types of businesses act as the backbone for neighborhoods across the country.

Our work goes beyond teaching English; it’s helping refugees feel at home in their new community in order to help them thrive. At this time, it is important that we offer support and solidarity with the immigrant and refugee community. Policies like this travel ban allow racism and xenophobia to divide us, but it’s up to us to speak out against discrimination.

And the Coalition’s Literacy Leader Award goes to…


The Coalition Announces its 2nd Annual Beyond Books Literacy Leader Award Recipient: Illinois Community College Board Deputy Director Jennifer Foster

Chicago – Februrary 16, 2017 – The Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition (the Coalition) will present its Literacy Leader Award to Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) Deputy Director Jennifer K. Foster at the organization’s second-annual awards ceremony, Beyond Books – Supporting Adult Literacy in Chicagoland, Thursday, March 30th at the Newberry Library. “We are so pleased to present this award to Jennifer. Her commitment to include low-skilled adults in Illinois’ Career Pathways framework has been unwavering,” said Becky Raymond, the Coalition’s Executive Director.

Jennifer K. Foster is the Deputy Director for Adult Education and Workforce Development/State GED Administrator at ICCB. She serves as the State Director for Adult Education and GED Testing in Illinois. Jennifer has been with the ICCB for almost 15 years and in adult education for more than 25 years. Jennifer also serves as the past chair of the National Adult Education Professional Development Consortium (NAEPDC) and the National Council of State Directors of Adult Education (NCSDAE) and has worked on many federal projects related to adult education and workforce. She is the team lead for the Illinois Accelerating Opportunity Project, a project that blends adult basic education skills and career technical education and training.

Ms. Foster has been very instrumental in the development of a strategic plan titled, “Creating Pathways for Adult Learners” that has provided future direction in adult education. She is also currently working to develop a strategic plan for Workforce Education to enhance the already robust Illinois community college system.

The inaugural Literacy Leader Award was given to Chicago Public Library Commission Brian Bannon at last year’s Beyond Books celebration; he will present the award to Ms. Foster at this year’s event. The Coalition’s Literacy Leader Award signifies exemplary commitment to ensuring low-skilled adults can access adult basic education services.

Proceeds from Beyond Books will help ensure that Chicago’s adult literacy providers are equipped with the necessary resources and training to help adult learners and their families thrive.

Join us March 30th from 5:30-7:30pm
at the Newberry Library (60 W. Walton St.)

Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition Received $100,000.00 through Chicago Tribune Charities

Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition Received $100,000.00 through Chicago Tribune Charities

Chicago, November 11, 2016- Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition recently received a $100,000.00 grant through Chicago Tribune Charities, a McCormick Foundation Fund.

The grant will support: For general support (1-year grant)

$1,000,000 was distributed to 23 nonprofit organizations across Chicago and the suburbs through Chicago Tribune Charities.

About the Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition

The Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition is a member-based organization that helps Chicago’s Adult Education organizations secure resources and training so that underserved adult learners can become economically successful. You may learn more on our website,

About Chicago Tribune Charities, A McCormick Foundation Fund

In 1990 the Chicago tribune expanded its support of helping those in need in Chicago and the suburbs and partnered with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation to establish Chicago Tribune Charities, a McCormick Foundation Fund. The fund is promoted, particularly its Holiday Giving Campaign, to raise funds from Chicago Tribune readers, the public and corporate donors. The Chicago Tribune and the McCormick Foundation pay all expenses ensuring that all donations, plus the McCormick Foundation match of 50 cents on each donated dollar, are invested in the community. The funds raised support programs throughout Chicagoland that help low-income people have access to child & youth education, adult literacy, job training & workforce development and child abuse prevention & treatment programs. Since inception, more than $119 million has been distributed to make a positive impact in the lives of thousands of disadvantaged children and families in Chicago and the suburbs. To learn more about Chicago Tribune Charities visit

About the Robert R. McCormick Foundation

Robert R. McCormick Foundation is committed to fostering communities of educated, informed and engaged citizens. Through philanthropic programs, Cantigny Park and museums, the Foundation helps develop citizen leaders and works to make life better in our communities. The Foundation was established as a charitable trust in 1955, upon the death of Colonel Robert R. McCormick, the longtime editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. The McCormick Foundation is one of the nation’s largest foundations, with more than $1.5billion in assets.

The McCormick Foundation’s Communities Program continues Col. McCormick’s legacy by partnering with media outlets, such as the Chicago Tribune, sports teams and philanthropic organizations across the country, to raise money and provide matching dollars which increase the impact of charitable giving. To learn more about the McCormick Foundation visit Follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.


Uncharted Waters: Reflections on the Presidential Election and 500 Days Without a State Budget.

As we think about Tuesday’s election and approach the 500th day without an Illinois state budget on November 11th, we are reflecting on the current political climate in which we operate.  After the Presidential election, throughout our city, there was shock and dismay on how divided our country is.  Nationally, there is uncertainty of how new leadership in Washington will create policies so that more adults can enter a career pathway and access employment at a living wage.  

The national uncertainty is only compounded by more uncertainty at the state level.  The historic political impasse around Illinois’ budget has disrupted the state’s human services that provide a safety net for our most marginalized communities. Without state funding, many organizations have cut services, laid off staff, or closed entirely. The most recent data completed by the United Way of Illinois shows one million Illinois residents have lost services due to program cuts, and 91% of agencies have cut services. Overall, the budget impasse affects nearly 1 in 3 of us.

Adult education is no exception: the two major state funding streams have been greatly impacted by the lack of a budget. During FY 2016 (July 2014 – June 2015), the Office of the Secretary of State (SOS) only awarded 50% of the Adult Volunteer Literacy Grants typically distributed to adult education providers. The Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) delayed payments for the first 6 months of FY 2016, causing many programs to shut down due to the uncertainty of funding. Programs on the south and west sides of Chicago, the areas with the largest need, have been hit the hardest by the lack of state funding. Cuts to the SOS grants greatly impacted the south side, and most of the programs on the west side have stopped offering services.

The stopgap-spending bill passed in June provided some temporary relief. But, when this funding expires in December, programs will be left in a lurch again, without any state revenue. Organizations are feeling more uncertain than ever about their futures and adults with low literacy skills remain caught in the middle, struggling even more than before to find a stable program.

After seeing and feeling the impact of the political impasse, adult education organizations and providers banded together to advocate for a state budget. Throughout the year, organizations traveled to Springfield to meet directly with Representatives and bring the stories from the field into the chambers of the General Assembly. Last November, five months into the budget impasse, a group of adult education providers held a press conference to raise awareness about adult education and the need for a state budget. At the event, CCLC collaborated with Centro Romero, Erie Neighborhood House, Illinois Coalition on Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Literacy Works, and others to create a forum where adult learners, providers, and State Representatives Cynthia Soto and Elizabeth Hernandez spoke out about the urgent need for a state budget.  To wrap up National Family Literacy Week last month, adult education providers collaborated again to host a rally in front of the Thompson Center, the first in the field’s history. The rally drew 150 adult education students, supporters, and allies and featured speeches from State Senator Daniel Biss and State Representative Theresa Mah.

Adult Education advocates have worked tirelessly over the last 500 days to advocate for a state budget, and our efforts led to the stopgap spending bill. By the end of the year, however, programs will be back at day 1.  With new Representatives settling into Springfield in January, there is hope that a budget is on the horizon. Advocates don’t know what the future holds, but we know that exercising our collective power can yield great results. CCLC will continue to be your trusted partner in advocacy at every level.  In the midst of unprecedented uncertainty we will continue to organize and lead the charge to ensure that more learners won’t fall through the cracks.  

Now more than ever, help us keep this work alive: Become a member, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and donate to make sure adult learners have access to the programs and services that will lead to their economic mobility.

CCLC Member Organization Is #OneInAMillionIL

Did you know that nearly one million people statewide have been impacted by the state budget impasse? The Responsible Budget Coalition’s #OneInAMillionIL video campaign aims to add faces and stories to this shocking statistic. CCLC sat down with one of our member organizations, United for Better Living, to discuss the devastation that has occurred to the field of adult education on the West Side. Hear from Kathy Allison, Executive Director, and Laura Carr, Adult Literacy Tutor- two voices from the one million that are struggling without a state budget. To take action, visit!

ChicaGO VOTE! in the News!

ChicaGO VOTE! is featured in an article published by Medill Reports Chicago. The guide is listed as one of the many resources that organizations are using to engage marginalized voters. Read about ChicaGO VOTE! and other voter mobilization strategies used by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and Mikva Challenge here!