Monday, July 21, 2008

Reading First program could be on its last legs

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Is the federal government getting out of the reading business?
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted last week to eliminate funding for Reading First, the groundbreaking but controversial Bush administration program that has given states $1 billion a year since 2002 to teach low-income elementary schoolers to read. A House committee also had voted to eliminate funding; if money is not restored before the federal budget is approved in the fall, the program could end.

Democrats in Congress say the program was an unproven magnet for corruption. House hearings last year focused on financial ties between its top advisers and major textbook publishers, who account for a large share of materials schools use. A U.S. Justice Department investigation, begun last year, is still pending.

But many educators say the money — about $17.7 million per state in 2007 — was a godsend, allowing them to train teachers in scientifically based reading methods, buy quality supplies and help an estimated 1.8 million children learn to read.

"It has been really good for many of our teachers, many of our schools and many of our children," says Michele Goady, Maryland's Reading First director.

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