As Celebrate Literacy, Florida! Week comes to an end, it is the perfect time to reflect on and share the vision of the Florida House of Representatives to help ensure that Florida’s children are reading on grade level.
When I took office as Speaker, Florida ranked sixth in the nation in fourth grade reading. I decided that wasn’t good enough. Why? Because when we started looking carefully at the data and analyzing what it meant for our future, we found that it might be 230 years before every child in Florida was reading on grade level. I’m not willing to wait that long.
So, starting last year, the Florida House set out to champion literacy like no other state legislative body has done. Now, it’s important to talk about these programs so that every Florida parent can know and take advantage of the good things happening in our state for children’s literacy.
Nearly half of students beginning elementary school are not academically prepared for kindergarten, and 43% of Florida’s 3rd grade students are reading below grade level based on statewide assessments. To identify the challenges in the elementary school system, we established the RAISE program in House Bill 7011. Sponsored by Rep. Vance Aloupis, the program identifies schools with low reading performance and provides support through regional literacy teams.
Research also shows that we have to reach children early in development to ensure that they can be prepared for success when it comes time to learn to read. Rep. Erin Grall tackled the issue of accountability in our voluntary pre-kindergarten (VPK) programs last Session to ensure that there is a comprehensive alignment of programs from birth through VPK. It allows for the early identification of deficiencies and provides solutions for early learning coalitions and child care facilities.
Research shows us that 88% of high schoolers who don’t graduate were struggling readers in third grade. We looked at struggling K-5th grade readers in the state, and we found that many of them don’t even own a book in their homes. We knew that was the pressure point — that is where we are failing our kids.
So, we created the New Worlds Reading Initiative, the largest state-funded free book delivery program for kids in the nation. Last year’s House Bill 3, sponsored by Rep. Dana Trabulsy, created a program with one goal in mind: a book delivery program that partners with students and families to build personalized, at-home libraries. This initiative empowers parents by providing resources to help improve their child’s reading skills and instill a love of reading that will expand their imagination and futures.
In December and January, our first free books were delivered to the doorsteps of over 80,000 struggling readers, on topics they chose and on their grade level. As a kid, I can’t think of anything more exciting than receiving a package in the mail with your name on it — with the New Worlds Reading Initiative, they’ll get a book every single month.
We’ve also worked with the Lastinger Center to provide parents materials to help them engage with their children on reading. Parents can visit www.newworldsreading.com for more information about this exciting new program and to register their child.
Finally, while we believe in the power of reading, we also know that every child should have the opportunity to learn in an environment that best suits their learning style. That’s why we passed the largest school choice expansion in the nation last Session, sponsored by Rep. Randy Fine.
From birth through high school and beyond, Florida students have more opportunities to read, to learn, and to succeed because of the work we’re doing in the Florida House.
Chris Sprowls serves as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.