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Posted at 12:41 PM ET, 03/ 1/2010

If Reading is Fundamental, why cut it?

By Valerie Strauss

Let’s applaud First Lady Michelle Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the Cat in the Hat and Thing 1 and Thing 2 for raising awareness about reading. They will kick off Tuesday’s 13th annual Read Across America Day at the Library of Congress.

Encouraging reading is never a bad thing.

But--why is there always a but?--the Obama administration has reorganized education programs in its proposed 2011 budget in a way that cuts funding to Reading Is Fundamental,” a longtime program that last year provided 4.4 million children with 15 million free, new books and literacy resources.

Obama’s proposal is to consolidate 38 programs within the federal education law into 11 new programs as a part of the reauthorization proposal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as No Child Left Behind. The consolidation may make sense, but as a result, Reading is Fundamental (as well as the National Writing Project and other programs) will now have to compete for funds.

I am not arguing against the value of competition. But lots of programs in the federal budget receive funds on a non-competitive basis. I don’t see why a highly successful book program--one that the administration itself describes as a program of “Inexpensive Book Distribution”--should have to spend money submitting grant proposals and disrupting the great work it has done for years.

Some 400,000 volunteers across the country work to get free books to kids at more than 17,000 schools, community centers, hospitals, military bases and other locations. RIF has helped improve the literacy of millions of kids over the years, involving families and communities in its efforts.

Founded in 1966, Reading is Fundamental is the oldest and largest children’s and family nonprofit literacy organization in the country. Its top mission is to serve underprivileged kids up to age 8.

The organization receives $25 million a year--80 percent of its funding--from the federal government. (RIF has received government funding uninterrupted since 1975.) It is asking for public support to persuade government officials to restore the funding.

You can go to the Web site, here, to learn more.

Meanwhile, at Tuesday’s kickoff event, the First Lady and Duncan will read to nearly 300 students from Hoffman-Boston Elementary School and Arlington Science Focus Elementary School in Northern Virginia, and Brent Elementary School in the District.

Duncan’s two children attend Arlington Science Focus.

Legislators and other guests will be joining in at the Library of Congress, while, across the country, people from all walks of life will be holding reading events. The day, sponsored by the National Education Association, has become a big deal. It engages teachers, librarians, actors, musicians, parents, athletes, politicians and others to promote reading on the birthday of Theodore Seuss Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss. Seuss books are read at the events, and lots of people dress up as the Cat in the Hat and other characters from his books.

It’s fun and hopefully, some kids who might not otherwise will be inspired to pick up a book. One of the values of the program is that it actually lasts more than a day; materials are available to help motivate kids to read year-round.

What I would hope could happen from Read Across America Day is not only that kids see the fun and value in reading, but that the adults in the room also get a better appreciation of the importance of giving kids time to read, and of supporting literacy programs that work.

It's all well and good for legislators to don a striped hat for the day and read “Fried Eggs and Ham” to a class, but many of these same people approved president Bush’s signature No Child Left Behind, the federal law that included Reading First.

Reading First was a massive program that spent billions of dollars for states to purchase literacy programs that were approved by the Bush administration and that were shown to be utterly ineffective; even the U.S. government conducted a major study that showed that kids in Reading First did no better, and sometimes worse, than kids who were not in the program.

It makes me wonder why a program that actually works getting books into the hands of kids who otherwise might not have them should have to go begging for funds.

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By Valerie Strauss  | March 1, 2010; 12:41 PM ET
Categories:  Reading  | Tags:  Arne Duncan, Michelle Obama, Read Across America  
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Comments

A program that's been around since 1966 undoubtedly needs revision.

If it's the best thing since sliced bread it'll win it's funds. If other proposals have an edge on it then it'll probably still win some funds but management will have been served notice that their ship needs shaping up.

Posted by: RedBird27 | March 1, 2010 8:34 PM | Report abuse

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