1 Government schools cannot cater for a large population.
2 Many poor children are forced into child labour and they cannot go to school.
When Victoria Norman was growing up in Laurel, she didn't have anyone to help her with her homework. She and her brother were raised by her grandparents, who didn't do much reading and couldn't assist with her English lessons.
"I wasn't that good in my English class," she said. "When we had to read the stories and take the test, I would get low grades.
"I understood most of the words, but as they got bigger, it was a problem — and putting the punctuation in and the spelling."
Norman, 28, dropped out of high school near the beginning of 12th grade when she had a child. Norman's literacy problems plagued her until recently when she enrolled in adult education classes at Jones County Junior College. There, she got the reading and vocabulary help she needed.
"When I first came, my score was low, but when I tested on a harder book, I improved a lot and it just kept going on and on," she said. "The stuff I know now I never even learned in high school."
Many Mississippians never get the help Norman has received. According to the most recent figures available — from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy — 16 percent of adults in this state are illiterate. The national rate, according to a study conducted in late April by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, is 14 percent.
In Mississippi, there are few places for adults who can't read to turn.
"There are only about 23 entities in the state who do (reading instruction)," said Caleb Smith, director of adult education at JCJC. "That includes 15 community colleges. There are a few school districts that do this around the state."
Smith said a lack of literacy skills puts an adult at severe disadvantage.
"Without reading skills, they can't read the fine print of contracts, get a loan, order food," he said. "You can't participate in social media, you can't read a newspaper or a past-due bill (that you get) in the mail. You have to go to someone else and say, 'Can you read this to me?'"
According to the Literacy Project Foundation, 50 percent of adults in this country cannot read a book written at an eighth-grade level. Three out of four people on welfare can't read, and 50 percent of unemployed people between the ages of 16 and 21 cannot read well enough to be considered functionally literate.