The Idaho Legislature has a significant opportunity this session to make one of the most important investments it can ever make in the future of our children.
Gov. Butch Otter is asking lawmakers to invest $10.7 million to help struggling readers become proficient. This money would be earmarked to help those children who are struggling to read in kindergarten through third grade, some 36,000 of them.
The governor’s proposal is important because from kindergarten to third grade, students learn to read, and from fourth grade on they read to learn. If students can’t read, they can’t learn — whether it is math, science, English or civics.
Research shows students who read at below grade level in fourth grade have a much higher probability of dropping out of school, not going on to obtain a postsecondary credential that prepares them for the workforce, a higher chance of ending up on social services or in the criminal justice system.
It’s hard to believe, but in Idaho two-thirds of our fourth grade students had either below basic reading proficiency or just basic proficiency, according to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, otherwise known as the “nation’s report card.” That means only one-third of our students were proficient or advanced readers.
The sad reality is Idaho’s fourth grade NAEP reading scores have been flat for the past 15 years. Who wouldn’t agree that it’s time to do something different to get a better result?
Gov. Otter and the State Board have laid out a visionary plan to reverse this discouraging statistic through proposed legislation to strengthen our reading laws. That $10.7 million investment to help struggling readers is the cornerstone of this effort.
Unfortunately, many legislators already have their eyes set on reducing the investment in our children’s future.
Some reports out of the Legislature say they will cut the investment back to $5 million to $8 million. That would not be enough to move our reading scores off dead center.
Education, especially reading proficiently, is the one thing that can take a person from one socio-economic strata in our society to another. It is the one thing that ensures that people have choices in life. It also helps us build the workforce we need for the 21st century.
We need to ask our legislators to give all Idaho children the gift of reading because it is the one gift that can keep on giving and giving to our children, and their children and to generations of Idahoans to come.
Jean De Luca is the CEO of Delta Dental of Idaho and on the board of the Idaho Business for Education, a group of 142 business leaders from across Idaho working to improve the education system.