State lawmakers hope Florida’s new $200 million book delivery program will help improve reading rates among students.
Gov. Ron DeSantis held a press conference Thursday at Indian River State College in Fort Pierce to laud the passage of the New Worlds Reading Initiative, a $200 million investment to improve child literacy in Florida.
Reading rates among fourth-graders have been declining. After a 12-year period of steady improvement six years ago, Florida’s literacy rates for elementary school children stagnated. Since then, fourth grade reading scores have regressed to where they were from 2007 to 2009, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Under the initiative, a book is delivered on a monthly basis to eligible students enrolled in a participating school district.
“We’re not just talking about any book. In the coming months Commissioner Corcoran and (the) Department of Education will create a selection of high-quality books with diverse subjects for each grade level,” DeSantis said, referring to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.
Parents are also provided with resources to help improve students’ reading skills.
Students with a substantial reading deficiency or who are reading below grade level based on standardized assessments will be eligible for the program.
“We know that book delivery programs like this are successful, because they engage parents in the process, which helps improve the child’s reading and their overall success in school,” DeSantis said.
Students can start in the program as early as third grade and it continues until sixth grade or until their parent opts out.
The program was a priority for House Speaker Chris Sprowls this past Session. At the bill signing press conference, Sprowls called it “the boldest literacy initiative that any state is pursuing in the United States of America.” Sprowls also thanked DeSantis, calling him the “boldest governor in America.”
Corcoran said the “massive infusion” of cash to improve childhood literacy is needed because of a “flatline” in children’s literacy rates. Corcoran said most of the eligible children don’t have books in their home.
“I know the feeling when I see that Amazon truck come up, and I know it’s a new golf club or something I ordered. I’m like, ‘wow this is fantastic.’ Now that little child who doesn’t even get presents is getting a book a month, and it’s his book, and he’s gonna have his own bookshelf, and by the time he’s done with third grade, he’s got 50 books on a shelf. It’s just a fantastic thing,” Corcoran said.
At the press conference, DeSantis said Florida is also utilizing an additional $71 million of federal funding from the CARES Act to fund and support other early learning literacy initiatives.