The House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee approved legislation Tuesday to establish a statewide program to deliver free books to elementary-school students identified as struggling readers.
In a unanimous vote, the subcommittee passed HB 3 and moves to its third and final committee, the Education & Employment Committee. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Dana Trabulsy, would implement the New Worlds Reading Initiative across the state.
“I’m certain that I wouldn’t be, today, here in Florida’s Legislature without the ability to read or the books that I’ve read along the way,” she said. “I truly believe that the journey of a lifetime begins by turning a page, and I think we owe it to the children of Florida.”
The program would be Florida’s first statewide book distribution plan to provide at-home literacy support for students reading below grade level by delivering one free book every month for nine months of the year. The initiative is a priority of House Speaker Chris Sprowls.
The bill received praise from subcommittee Chair Randy Fine, who reflected on how important books have been in his own two children’s lives, referencing a similar program he participated in that delivers Jewish books once a month to participants.
Fine said that if his home ever caught fire, after getting his family out, the next thing he would grab would be the books.
“I’m very blessed that I’ve had this, and I think it’s a program that frankly every Floridian should be blessed to do so,” he said. “We’re very lucky that you’re bringing this bill forward.”
An analysis of the bill estimates that at least 557,344 elementary school students would be eligible to participate in the initiative, based on the most recent statewide standardized English Language Arts assessment results.
Currently, the cost of the program for the state is unknown. Funding for the initiative, which would have to include the purchase and delivery of books, would be dependent upon an appropriation provided by the Legislature in the Fiscal Year 2021-2022 General Appropriations Act, according to the analysis.
“At this time, we don’t know what the cost will be because we still need to go through the procurement process,” Trabulsy said.
According to the latest English Language Arts assessment results in the staff analysis, 43% of third-grade students are reading below grade level in Florida. The legislation notes that 88% of children who did not graduate from high school struggled with reading in third grade.
A Senate version of the bill (SB 1372) was filed by Sen. Danny Burgess and is awaiting its first committee hearing.