The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 consolidated federal adult education programs. Congress just passed a re-authorization that has gone to the president for his signature. Section 201 deals with Adult Education and Family Literacy. The reauthorized section 201 “create[s] a partnership among the Federal Government, States, and localities to provide, on a voluntary basis, adult education and literacy activities.” The list of purposes for these activities begins with employment and job skills, as one would expect for a Department of Labor program. But the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools alerted me to section 4(b), which mentions another outcome: “acquiring an understanding of the American system of Government, individual freedom, and the responsibilities of citizenship.” Section 243 then specifically mentions “integrated English literacy and civics education.” Funds for this purpose are to be allocated–in part–on the basis of the number of newly naturalized citizens per state. Money can flow to nonprofits, state agencies, universities, libraries, etc.
Of course, everything depends on how these provisions are implemented. Civics education for new immigrants could be mere jingoistic propaganda, or it could be well-intentioned and yet poorly handled. However, as I argued in a CNN.com column last year, we can and should educate new immigrants for effective and responsible civic participation. That will be good for them as individuals, good for their communities, and good for democracy. I am enthusiastic about these provisions in the Workforce Investment Act. It is now up to us to make sure they are well implemented.