Funds to boost literacy offered to state schools

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Local schools with poor reading scores may soon get a boost through $108 million in new federal funding earmarked for literacy programs.

The U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday that Missouri will receive $29 million this year, and an additional $79 million over the next six years, to help fund the federal No Child Left Behind Act's reading initiative.

Schools with at least 30 percent of students scoring in the bottom two of five levels -- step 1 or progressing -- on the communication arts portion of the annual Missouri Assessment Program tests are eligible to apply for the grants.

According to state definitions, students scoring in step 1 are substantially behind in that subject area and students at the progressing level are beginning to use their knowledge but still make many errors.

Based on 2003 MAP scores, four schools in Cape Girardeau and two in Scott City would be eligible. The grant money may be available as early as next spring.

Jim Morris, public information director with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the funding will be distributed through a grant application process to school districts with the poorest reading scores in the state.

"It focuses on the kids who need it most," Morris said. "It's a significant amount of money, particularly as other resources are dwindling."

Morris said the initial $29 million has been guaranteed, but the additional $79 million is dependent on congressional appropriations over the next six years.

Missouri was among the last states to receive the reading initiative funding, which was promised when NCLB was first enacted.

U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, who called the money "a huge shot in the arm for Missouri's schools," helped finalize the grant application process for the state.

"A love for learning and reading are among the best gifts we can give our children, and this legislation will help do that," he said in a news release Thursday.

Although local school officials had not yet received details about the grant money Friday, they expressed interest in the possibility of gaining funding for reading programs.

"Especially in the times we're in, we're anxious to pursue any additional funding," said Mark Bowles, superintendent of the Cape Girardeau School District. "It sounds like a wonderful opportunity."

The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law in 2002 by President Bush, is a sweeping federal reform that impacts almost every aspect of public education, from student achievement and teacher quality to school prayer.

To receive the grants, eligible schools must develop in-depth plans for improving reading scores. The plans must follow specific guidelines under NCLB, including using research-based teaching methods and professional development activities.

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