Senator Murray, Representatives Yarmuth, Polis Introduce Landmark Federal Literacy Bill

Nov 05 2009

New bill will create a comprehensive federal program to support literacy instruction in states; comes at a time when literacy funding is limited by state budget shortfalls

Bill Summary - Senate version

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and Representatives John Yarmuth (D-KY 3rd) and Jared Polis (D-CO 2nd) announced they would introduce major legislation to fund comprehensive literacy programs in states across the country. The Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (LEARN) Act will provide $2.35 billion in grants to fund state and local school-based literacy programs that span from early childhood to grade twelve. The LEARN Act will create the flagship federal literacy program to ensure that students have the literacy skills to succeed in school and their future careers.  

“Literacy must be education priority number one,” said Senator Murray, a senior member of the Senate Education Committee. “It’s the building block that keeps students engaged in school and on track to college and a successful career.  The LEARN Act will provide a new comprehensive and state-wide approach to literacy.  It will help ensure that high quality literacy instruction starts early and continues through high school for students who need extra support. The LEARN Act also comes at a critical time for Washington state as budget cutbacks continue to affect the resources available to address literacy.”

The LEARN Act fills a critical void at an important time as states across the nation face budget cutbacks and amid the elimination of federal Reading First grants. The bill would authorize $2.35 billion in much-needed federal support for comprehensive state and locally-led literacy programs to ensure that children from early childhood through twelfth grade have the reading and writing skills necessary for success in school and beyond.

“Students who are not proficient in reading and writing are far less likely to succeed in school and in life. But, in Louisville alone, up to 38 percent of high school students are unable to read at their grade level,” said Congressman John Yarmuth. “Our nation and our communities must make literacy education a top priority. By investing in local high-quality literacy programs and expanding literacy instruction for the students who need it most, that’s exactly what the LEARN Act will do.”

“Literacy is the foundation for a world-class education. Our children will not be able to develop the complex skills and knowledge they need to succeed and compete in a global economy if they can’t read or write,” said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA-7th), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and a co-sponsor of the House legislation. “This bill asks states to take a more comprehensive approach to literacy that starts with our youngest learners and focuses attention and resources to students at every step along the way.”

“The LEARN Act is based on the simple fact that literacy is the cornerstone of all learning,” said Congressman Jared Polis.  “Unfortunately, too many students cannot read and write at their grade level, which prevents them from realizing their full potential, both in school and in life.  This comprehensive legislation supports high-quality literacy instruction to provide each and every child, including English language learners and students with special needs, with the reading and writing skills needed to succeed in college and in the workforce.  By supporting effective literacy initiatives from early learning through high school, this legislation will help to create the world class education system that America’s children deserve.”

The grant funding will be used to provide high-quality professional development that would prepare teachers to improve literacy instruction specific to grade level; analyze data to improve student learning; fund assessments of student progress; and effectively implement literacy intervention strategies. As a result, teachers will be prepared with the tools to provide students, including special education students and English language learners, with excellent instruction in reading and writing. 

The LEARN Act incorporates principles from the Striving Readers federal adolescent literacy program, and it makes reforms and improvements to K-3 and early literacy programs, including strong conflict of interest provisions.  It also places a greater focus on coordinating literacy instruction across districts and the state, and across grade levels.

Senator Murray will introduce the LEARN Act in the Senate today, while Congressmen Yarmuth and Polis will introduce a version of the LEARN Act in the House in the coming days.

See more details on the Senate version of this bill.