Leavitt announces funding boost for reading

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    By LYALL SWIM

    Gov. Mike Leavitt announced $10.5 million in funding for a new reading program for Utah school children Wednesday afternoon at Carl Sundberg Elementary School in West Valley City.

    Leavitt’s plan focuses mainly on increasing parental involvement with their child’s education from birth and the increased training of current and future teachers to recognize and properly deal with children who have literacy problems.

    “This reading initiative is a comprehensive effort,” Leavitt said. “Our greatest chance of preventing reading failure among our children is when they are young and in the primary grades.”

    Leavitt’s proposed five-point program drew good reviews from educators and administrators alike following the announcement.

    “We’re thrilled,” said Kevin Hague, director of curriculum and instruction in Granite School District. “It supports everything we have been doing. We have been pushing for this.”

    Leavitt emphasized the vital role literacy plays in society.

    “Let me say it again, 70 percent of those in our jails are illiterate,” Leavitt said. “The cost of failure (illiterate children) is too high. Our society can’t afford our children not being able to read.”

    By not educating and helping students to become literate, society is doing the youth a great disservice, Leavitt said.

    “If we don’t teach our kids to read, we ruin their chances of success in almost everything else,” Leavitt said.

    New literacy tests will be instituted following the first and second grades to determine how well children are reading. Leavitt’s plan includes funding for those students who fail these tests to attend a 30-day summer school reading program. The students will spend only two hours a day in class and class sizes will range from four to eight maximum.

    Leavitt said both he and the first lady would be leading the way on a “Read With Me” campaign aimed at getting parents to read to and with their children on a regular basis.

    Government does not have sole responsibility for the education of Utah children, Leavitt said. Literacy must begin at home.

    “By intervening early, we are giving our children an essential life skill,” Leavitt said. “This is one of the most loving gifts an education system can provide.”

    Robert Arnold, of the Granite School District Board of Education, said the governor’s plan is right on target.

    “We are hoping that early involvement will lead to lasting involvement,” Arnold said.

    In addition to increased parental involvement, the two areas which need the most attention are the development of educators and the plan of remediation for grades one and two, Arnold said.

    “Teachers need to know how to diagnose (reading problems and other disabilities),” Arnold said. “We have said all along every teacher needs to be a reading teacher all day long.”

    While teachers and educators are happy with the direction the governor has decided to take, they said they hope the effort will be a sustained one.

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