This was written by Carol H. Rasco, president and chief executive officer for the non-profit Reading Is Fundamental, the nation’s largest nonprofit children’s literacy organization.
By Carol H. Rasco
Currently there are 16 million children in our nation living in poverty, the highest number in two decades, and in low-income neighborhoods, there is only one book for every 300 children. The most recently reported National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that students in the United States continue to struggle with the most fundamental educational skill — reading.
According to NAEP, more than a third of all fourth grade public school students cannot read at even the most basic level. Another third only reaches the level of “proficient.” We are in the midst of a reading crisis in America, and Reading Is Fundamental is taking a new approach to ignite a love of reading across the United States.
“Book People Unite” is a new awareness campaign created to focus a national spotlight on children’s literacy. The campaign, anchored by a new public service announcement (PSA) with beloved book characters and a star-studded soundtrack, aims to spark a movement to put books in the hands of children who need them most.
We believe a vital and necessary step to improving literacy rates in the United States is providing children in poverty with greater access to the building blocks for language education – books.
It is then of great concern to us in this time of great need for a focus on building stronger literacy skills, the Obama administration and Congress have significantly slashed funding for education initiatives, like RIF, which help to provide our students with books and their parents and caregivers with the tools needed to make the books the change factor research shows they can be in improving students’ reading abilities.
Although Congress created a new grant program last year to give literacy organizations and school libraries a chance to compete for federal funding, formal plans have yet to be announced. Meanwhile, the need continues to grow and RIF and many other organizations focused on education are still in need of both private and public support.
RIF alone has distributed more than 400 million free books to the nation’s neediest children; last year the program gave out 14 million books to more than 4 million children nationwide. This month marks the first in the last three decades at RIF that we’re operating without federal support – support that last year marked 80 percent of our budget, or $24.8 million.
It is imperative that RIF and other programs that effectively and efficiently put books in the hands of young children continue to receive the public/private support needed to bring the needed books to children.
A new report underscores another dramatic affect budget cuts like these are having -- pre-K funding is at its lowest levels in a decade. The influence on kids in low-income communities will be felt tenfold. No books and struggling programs already strapped for resources.
In addition to providing books to children, we must also continue to encourage parents at all economic levels but in particular those in lower income groups to take a highly engaged role and leading role in the education of their children. Decades of research has shown that when parents are involved, students have higher test scores, better self-esteem and increased motivation. And the value of community mentors and volunteers has been proven time and again in nurturing young minds at-risk.
Restoring funding for all these vital programs will be critical. But the truth is we must go beyond the state halls and Congress for the answer. Now is the time to spark a reading revolution in this country.
Students need access to books to be equipped for success in the classroom. Parents and communities need access to the tools and support needed to help foster children’s growth. While it is critical for Congress to restore funding to programs that have the ability to fulfill these needs for our nation’s students, it is also time for us all to reevaluate how we are contributing to the literacy education of our nation’s youth.
We don't just have an issue to solve. We have a movement to ignite. Together we can all make a difference. I’m a “Book Person.” Are you? Visit www.bookpeopleunite.org to learn more about the campaign and watch the public service announcements.
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