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Struggling students could see book deliveries

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A priority of House Speaker Chris Sprowls that would lead to books being delivered to the homes of struggling elementary school readers got unanimous approval Thursday from a House panel.

Filed by Rep. Dana Trabulsy, R-Fort Pierce, the measure (HB 3) is dubbed the “New Worlds Reading Initiative.” It would have the state Department of Education, or a third-party provider, split the cost of monthly book delivery with participating school districts.

“In the essence of this bill, we certainly want our children to read on grade-level, we want them to be successful students and adults. But more importantly, we want them to be excited about reading,” Trabulsy said during Thursday’s meeting of the House Early Learning & Elementary Education Subcommittee.

Students eligible for the program would have to be “identified as having a substantial reading deficiency ... or scored below a level 3 on the prior year’s statewide, standardized ELA (English Language Arts) assessment,” under the measure.

The most recent data on English Language Arts assessments, recorded during the 2018-2019 school year, showed 43% of third-grade students were reading below grade level. Lagging progress in reading has caught the attention of Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican who endorsed the bill Jan. 28, during the Department of Education’s Literacy Week. 

“Although Florida has made amazing strides over the last couple of decades in reading ... if we remained on current trends it could be as long as 230 years before every child in the state is learning on grade-level,” Sprowls said during a video press conference about the legislation.

School districts that choose to participate in the optional program would partner with local nonprofits to raise their half of the program costs, with Trabulsy saying it “can be your local education foundation, it can be your local Rotary Club, it can be any nonprofit organization that you partner with to raise those additional dollars.”

Training also would be provided for parents through such things as “brief video training modules, which engage families in reading and assist with improving student literacy skills,” according to the bill.

To choose a distributor for delivering books, Trabulsy said the Department of Education or third-party administrator will publish a request for bids.