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STRIVING READERS ACT INTRODUCED IN U.S. SENATE: Bill Seeks to Improve Reading Skills of Older Students

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“The Striving Readers Act will place a significant concentration on improving the reading capabilities of our older students,” said Sessions

On March 22, U.S. Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced new legislation that would provide grants to every state for reading and comprehension programs to meet the needs of students in grades 4–12. Senators John Kerry (D-MA)Thad Cochran (R-MS)Daniel Akaka (D-HI)Trent Lott (R-MI)Christopher Dodd (D-CT)Richard Burr (R-NC)Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), and Pete Domenici (R-NM) joined them as original cosponsors of the legislation.

“The Striving Readers Act will place a significant concentration on improving the reading capabilities of our older students,” said Sessions. “With 70 percent of our middle and high school students reading below grade level, we need to help them develop the reading skills and knowledge they need to succeed in all courses. This initiative will focus on advanced vocabulary and comprehension skills so that all of our students will be prepared to meet the demands of the 21st century.”

Called the Striving Readers Act, or S.958, the legislation would help ensure that older students who are struggling to read and write at grade level receive the literacy interventions they need to succeed in school and graduate from high school with a meaningful diploma. Specifically, it would help states create statewide literacy initiatives for students in grades 4–12, share data on student progress with parents and the public, and improve teacher training and professional development in literacy so that all students receive high-quality instruction. It would also allow schools and districts to hire and place literacy coaches, train parents to support the literacy development of their child, and connect learning inside the classroom with learning that takes place outside the classroom.

“The Striving Readers Act is a landmark bill that focuses federal dollars on teen literacy for the very first time,” Murray said. “Reading is the core to learning, but too many of our students make it past the lower grades without the literacy skills needed to succeed in school. Striving Readers invests in helping our older students improve their reading skills so they can reach graduation and succeed in life.”

First funded at $24.8 million as a Title I demonstration program in fiscal year (FY) 2005, the Striving Readers program has seen small increases in recent years but has yet to see the funding that would allow its reach to extend beyond a handful of school districts. If signed into law, the Striving Readers Act would authorize $200 million in FY 2008, with increased funding through FY 2012, which would allow the program to expand to every state.

Brief Funding History of the Striving Readers Program

Fiscal Year

President Bush’s Budget Request

Final Authorization

2005

$100 million

$24.8 million

2006

$200 million

$29.7 million

2007

$100 million

$31.9 million

2008

$100 million

To be determined

Currently, only eight programs nationwide receive funding under the program—even though the U.S. Department of Education received close to one hundred applications in the initial competition. Additional grants are unlikely without a corresponding increase in funding. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education announced last week that it will use FY 2007 funds to continue to support the eight Striving Readers projects that were first funded in March 2006 and will not hold a new competition for additional awards in 2007.

“Because federal commitment to reading disappears after the third grade, this legislation is essential for focusing attention on the older student so that everyone stays in school and crosses the commencement stage with a diploma in hand,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia.

More information on the Striving Readers Act is available in Senator Sessions’s press release, which can be found athttp://sessions.senate.gov/pressapp/record.cfm?id=271130.

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