Early childhood literacy funding to double next year

May 1, 2019

Gov. Brad Little emphasized education issues during last year’s campaign, and one of his most frequent themes, along with raising teacher pay, was spending more on early childhood literacy. This year he requested, and lawmakers approved, doubling spending on kindergarten-through-third-grade literacy programs from $13 million to $26 million.

School districts can decide how to spend the money, with some potential uses including hiring more teachers in those grades, buying curriculum materials or equipment and paying for all-day kindergarten or summer reading programs.

So what do they plan to do with it?

Idaho Falls School District 91 will see an increase from $490,000 to about $940,000 for its early childhood literacy programs, Student Achievement and School Improvement Director Gail Rochelle said.

The increased funds will go toward extending the district’s full-day kindergarten program, covering more children that are in need of extended reading instruction by adding about three hours to their school day.

The money will also help cover 10 to 13 percent of instructional coach salaries and add instructors for students with special needs. It should help improve the district’s summer reading program, Rochelle said.

“The money allows us to serve more kids than we have before,” Rochelle said.

Districts’ funding is calculated based on a three-year average of how many kindergartners through third-graders scored basic or below basic on the fall statewide reading assessment, said Scott Phillips, spokesman for the state Department of Education. Districts get $350 per student who falls into this group.

Bonneville Joint School District 93 Superintendent Scott Woolstenshulme said the district will “take a step back and look at the district’s literacy programs from a holistic perspective.” Woolstenhulme said District 93 still offers full-day kindergarten, but it won’t expand its program, an idea some school trustees have suggested to help increase literacy rates.

Woolstenhulme said the district’s spending on early childhood literacy will jump from about $500,000 to $1 million. Tentatively, he said, the money will go toward improving the district’s reading program, Lexia Learning, as well as increasing instruction by adding more specialized instruction and teachers. Lexia Learning is a Rosetta Stone company that provides “explicit, systematic, personalized learning in the six areas of reading instruction,” according to its website.

“We want to fund more high-quality learning through more specialty programs and by improving teacher effectiveness,” Woolstenhulme said.