TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – More than 500,000 Florida students in grades K-5 are eligible to receive a new book in the mail once a month under legislation currently awaiting the governor’s signature.
The state’s first ever book distribution program is designed to help struggling readers.
Florida’s latest test results show four in ten third graders are reading below grade level, and that nearly half of all arriving kindergarten students aren’t ready to enter school. That spells trouble for them down the road.
“If you interview people in prison, you know, they don’t have reading skills. And so, good reading skills is really the lifeline to a productive life,” Dr. Mimi Graham, an early childhood educator, said.
Enter the New World Reading Initiative, which passed both the Florida House and Senate with unanimous support.
Under the legislation, over 500,000 struggling readers are eligible to receive one hardcover book a month free of charge. The first books must go out before the end of the year.
“What this will do is identify the underperforming readers,” State Rep. Dana Trabulsy, the House sponsor, said of the legislation.
She likened the program to the weekly reader that arrived at home when most of today’s parents were kids.
“For a child, it’s just exciting to know that something is coming just for you. So, hopefully, that’s going to spark their interest and make them want to dive into the book,” Trabulsy said.
There’s $200 million set aside in the state budget this year to get the program off the ground. After that, corporations will get a tax break for contributing to the effort.
One criticism of the program from educators is that it does not partner with local or school libraries.
Scott Mazur, president of the Leon County Teachers Association, believes the program is a big step in the right direction.
“Early prevention is the key to making sure that students have access and are able to approach literature appropriately,” Mazur said.
A 2011 study titled “Double Jeopardy” found that a whopping 88 percent of high school dropouts were already struggling with reading when they were in the third grade.