- Tennessee’s network of literacy coaches and summer reading camp programs, both important components of the state’s Read to be Ready literacy initiative launched four years ago, are now in jeopardy as funding sources for the programs have dried up and much of the state funding for the promising and popular initiative is being diverted towards a new education voucher program that will allow more students to attend private schools, Chalkbeat reports.
- The Read to be Ready initiative was implemented with the goal of eventually increasing from roughly to 75% by 2025 the percentage of 3rd graders who test as proficient readers. Last year, the state saw a jump to almost 37% of 3rd graders reading at proficient levels by the end of the year as a result of the summer reading camps and literacy coaches devoted to supporting reading instruction in the primary grades.
- The program is now in danger because original grant funds used to launch the initiative have been exhausted, federal funds administered by the state Department of Human Services were “disallowed” for the purpose, and the most recent state budget failed to prioritize the initiative after the original funding for literacy coaches ends this month. State education officials are now seeking alternative federal and grant funding for the program.
Tennessee already ranks low on a variety of indicators of educational achievement. Now, a reading initiative that has already been shown to have a positive impact is being reduced because lawmakers no longer see it as a priority.
Studies indicate that 3rd grade reading proficiency is one of the biggest predictors of high school graduation and future educational attainment. Because so much learning in later elementary grades and beyond hinges on the ability to read and comprehend text, the investment in early education literacy programs have been a priority for many states in recent years. States, however, have adopted a variety of approaches, laws and initiatives to help promote the goal of increasing the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of 3rd grade, including mandatory retention, in some cases. In fact, though Tennessee set its goal at 75% proficiency, the Children’s Reading Foundation, a nonprofit, advocates for setting the bar at 90%.
School and district leaders may have to reach out to state lawmakers to help them see the value in literacy initiatives. In the meantime, districts may have to look at other sources of grant funding or creative ways of using federal funding for education most effectively for this purpose. Preschool programs and community initiatives that encourage parents to spend more time reading to their children before they even reach preschool are important strategies as well because students who lack early exposure to a wide vocabulary early on are often hampered when learning to read.