By Chris Diggins
Utah Governor Olene Walker is asking Utah legislators to budget $30 million for a program that would aim to have all Utah students reading at their grade level by the end of third grade.
Anticipating that Utah”s school-age population will increase by 30 percent in the next decade, Walker has made the literacy program one of her top priorities for the coming year.
“Education is the basis for our future prosperity, and it is a key to individual success,” Walker said in last week”s State of the State address. “I challenge the public, educators and business leaders to become an active part of the solution.”
Part of Walker”s solution is the Performance Plus reading program, which includes a yearly budget of $25 million to run the program and an appropriation of $5 million this year to purchase equipment and pay for start up costs. In addition, Walker”s recommendation calls for a modest increase in salary and benefits for teachers.
“The money that she [Walker] is providing is sorely needed,” said Margo Christensen, literacy coordinator at Wasatch Elementary School in Provo. “Our school and our state, we”re always looking for more money to do what we want to do.”
Christensen said she thinks the governor”s aim can be achieved by providing more professional development opportunities for teachers and giving them increased resources to teach their children.
“Every child can read at grade level,” Christensen said. “As long as they don”t have any abilities that hinder their learning, we think that this can happen.”
Amanda Covington, a spokeswoman for Walker, said the program is designed to go hand in hand with Walker”s “Read with a Child” program.
The Read with a Child program asks adults to take time to read with a child 20 minutes a day in addition to the reading that the children already do at school.
Christensen said she also thinks involvement on the part of adults has a positive impact on the children.
“Our philosophy is that literacy is the school, teachers and parents working together,” Christensen said. “We”re really pleased that she [Walker] wants 20 minutes of reading everyday.”
Walker has been receiving plenty of support for her program from local businesses. She has already received promises from organizations like Zions Bank, Bonneville International Corp. and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Foundation to provide funding and in-kind services to support the program.
The bill calling for the education initiative has recently received sponsorship and will be presented to the legislature later this year.