Books program moving forward for struggling readers

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A state-backed program designed to help struggling elementary school readers by delivering free books to their homes is expected to start shipping books next month, and eligible families are encouraged to enroll.

The New Worlds Reading Initiative is a state investment of more than $ 200 million to boost literacy among students who read below grade. Lawmakers passed a bill (HB 3) to create and fund the program during this spring’s legislative session, responding to a priority of House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. Governor Ron DeSantis signed the measure in July.

The University of Florida’s Lastinger Center for Learning, which was chosen to administer the program, distributed to school districts about 700,000 flyers with information on how to sign up for book delivery. Districts provide data to the university to identify eligible students based on reading scores.

An estimated 545,000 Florida families will be eligible to receive books, according to the Lastinger Center. Families who enroll will receive nine pounds per year under the program, meaning the program could deliver up to £ 5 million per year.

So far, around 30,000 families have registered after an open registration period on 12 October.

“Our goal is to get the word out to as many families as possible. We know there are over 500,000 eligible students in our state who could participate in this program, ”Shaunte Duggins, deputy director of the program at Lastinger Center, told the News Service of Florida in an interview on Monday.

To be eligible, students in Kindergarten to Grade 5 must be identified as “having a substantial impairment” in reading based on standardized test scores and other performance criteria.

The book delivery program aims to help solve a problem that lawmakers and senior education officials see as key to the success of young students when they later enter high school and potentially higher education. . The House Education and Employment Committee heard a presentation on Tuesday on how the program is being implemented.

“I also want to remind the committee that the reason we are doing this is that right now, on average, 43% of Florida kids in third grade are not reading at the third grade level,” said the representative. Dana Trabulsy, a Republican from Fort Pierce who sponsored the bill in the spring session.

According to the Lastinger Center, more than 50% of students in grades three to five are eligible in 22 of Florida’s 67 counties. The three districts with the most eligible students are Miami-Dade County with over 31,200, Broward County with 25,000, and Hillsborough County with over 23,600.

Three rural school districts in North Florida have the highest percentages of students eligible to receive the free books. About 74 percent of students in Gadsden County are eligible, followed by 70 percent in Jefferson County and 69 percent in Hamilton County.

State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran highlighted efforts to increase third-grade reading scores during a speech last week to the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

“This is the most important crisis point, in my opinion, that must be addressed if we are to survive for another 200 years” as a nation, Corcoran said. “And all things are going at this singular point.”

Registration for the New Worlds Reading Initiative is available online through the program’s website. But the Lastinger Center also hopes to reach eligible families who may not have internet access.

“Beyond this year, we plan to offer a paper registration to ensure we have access to all families who may have difficulty accessing it online,” said Lastinger center director Phillip Poekert on Tuesday. , to legislators.

The program also hopes to reach homeless students or transient and migrant families.

Duggins said the goal of the free book recipient program is to help build a “home library” that will encourage students to read with their parents or guardians.

“There is nothing quite like reading with a paper book,” Duggins told the News Service. “We know from research that when families engage in specific literacy activities with their children … there are impacts on their success. “

During the registration process, parents are asked to indicate a student’s reading preferences by subject and genre, such as fiction or non-fiction, in order to tailor books to student interests.

The state contracts with children’s book publisher Scholastic to supply the books, and Poekert said Florida has become the company’s “biggest customer” as a result of the deal.

“They (Scholastic) won on substance, in terms of their confidence in their ability to accommodate this fairly high profile and very quick initiative, to be able to serve on a large scale,” Poekert said of the Lastinger Center’s procurement process. markets.


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