Colorado lawmakers are working to make literacy a priority.
Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., introduced the “Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation” Act Nov. 5, to fund comprehensive literacy programs across the country and better educate students from birth to grade 12.
The bill provides $2.35 billion annually in grants to fund state and local school-based literacy programs. The act is designed to give students an opportunity to develop literacy skills needed to succeed in school as well as future professions, according to Polis’ Web site.
The LEARN Act builds off several expired programs including: “Reading First” and “Striving Readers Federal Adolescent Literacy Program”—the former of which Polis said to be too narrow. Incorporating attributes from “Striving Readers,” Polis said he has taken proven methods of both programs’ success and created the LEARN Act.
“ ‘Striving Readers’ is an existing federal program but very small, funded at a small program level,” Polis said. “I wanted to expand upon ‘Reading First’ since it only focused on grades one through five. We want to take what works and expand on it nationally… We have evidence of what works and reaches students and need to use that.”
The money from the program, Polis said, goes toward reading tutors, school supplies, teacher education workshops and through all that, creates creativity at the district level in terms of where the money goes. Districts come up with different ideas to teach students, and the grant money goes to fill in the students’ gaps in literacy.
“Through my work I’ve seen there’s a need to improve basic literacy and without that, you can’t even go to community college,” Polis said.
The program will work through the state, from the federal government to the state level, Polis said. The state will be in charge of writing a comprehensive plan detailing the allocation of grant money as long as districts fit their plans within the limits of the bill, they have free-reign of where the money goes. One restriction listed in the bill requires states to use programs that have previously proven to increase literacy.
Senior member of the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), is a co-sponsor of the LEARN Act, along with Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.). Murray said that as budget cuts continue to affect the country, the LEARN Act comes at a vital time to support literacy problems.
“It’s the building block that keeps students engaged in school and on track to college and a successful career,” Murray said. “The LEARN Act will provide a new comprehensive and state-wide approach to literacy. It will help ensure that high quality literacy instruction starts early and continues through high school for students who need extra support.”
The bill vaguely mentions how the influence of the program will be measured. Polis said that the Colorado Student Assessment Program will measure success locally, but did not mention a national assessment test.
“Here is Colorado we have the CSAP state test,” Polis said. “I believe increased literacy levels will result in better reading as well as math and science scores on the test. We should start seeing results in a couple of years.”
Polis said he expects the LEARN Act to be incorporated into the big federal education bill next year. There will be a focus on literacy in the education bill which reinforces the need for the LEARN act.
“Hopefully the LEARN Act will be passed into law next year and as a result we hope this leads to higher graduation rates,” Polis said. “People drop out of high school because they don’t have the literacy levels to do well in school or continue education.”
Gabe Londono, a 20-year-old junior open-option major, said he thinks the act will help students do better in school.
“My high school English teachers used to spend a lot of time on basic principles because kids had so much trouble writing,” Londono said. “Freshman year English class in college was easier because of that. I noticed a bunch of people struggling with grammar and punctuation. I’ve definitely noticed a literacy problem since I’ve been to college.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Adrian Kun at Adrian.firstname.lastname@example.org.