Lawmakers look to improve early literacy rates

Posted at 5:48 PM, Feb 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-08 19:48:41-05

Young Idaho school kids continue to have a problem reading at grade level; the latest reports show a third to nearly half of children are not proficient in reading. Today, lawmakers released new initiatives to try and turn things around.

Third grade literacy is a golden benchmark in education. It's a guide for the number of high school graduates a district can expect, even the number of beds a jail will need in the future. In the state of Idaho, the number of children struggling to read is disturbingly high.

As many as 45 percent of students in the second grade are below literacy standards. In an effort to reduce those numbers, lawmakers are considering a $10.7 million dollar booster shot to early literacy programs.

"Essentially what the legislation does is identify how districts are to  provide literacy intervention and what those plans may or should include," said Blake Youde, a spokesman for the State Board of Education.

The money would fund extra reading programs for struggling students. If passed, the bill requires students at the bottom levels to take a minimum of sixty hours in extra lessons. There's also a renewed focus on parents getting involved in their children's reading.

“A consistent message of parental involvement is key to improving student literacy, particularly in the youngest grades," said Youde.

A separate bill sponsored by Rep. Julie VanOrden requires schools to send a notice to parents if their child is failing and bring them in to discuss options. For example, having your young child read twenty minutes a night.

"A lot of parents don't even know how crucial those twenty minutes a night are,” said VanOrden, R-Pingree. “So bringing them in and having them find all that out right at the beginning of the year is very important."

The rough breakdown of the ten million dollar literacy investment comes down to $290 a student. That number is only a fraction the state school board says is needed for a complete intervention program.