The Pryor Times

Opinion

April 1, 2012

Reading is key to success

According a study by the Washington Literacy Council, more than three out of four of people on welfare are illiterate. That’s true for 85 percent of unwed mothers and three in five prison inmates. The common thread is lacking the most fundamental skill to succeed in school and throughout life—reading.

The estimated cost of illiteracy, both to businesses and to the American taxpayer, is $20 billion a year, according to the United Way. For the individual, it means a lifetime of struggles, and for our communities, state and our nation, it means millions of individuals who will never become contributing members of society.

It is in all our best interests to find new ways to help children who struggle with reading. One program that is making its way through the legislature this year is HB 2676, which would create a “Bridge to Literacy” program with the goal of ensuring all Oklahoma children can read at grade-level by the end of the third grade.

This legislation proposes a public/private partnership to achieve that goal, by helping training volunteers to work as tutors through community organizations and local churches. Under the proposed legislation, the State Department of Education would request proposals and applications for the program beginning Oct. 1 of this year.  Nonprofit organizations, community-based programs, centers, churches or other religious organizations would be eligible to apply.

The reading programs would have to help children through the fourth grade, with services available before and after school, on Saturdays, or during summer months.  The proposals must focus on reading at the appropriate level and include assessments to determine improvement in reading skills. The state board would have until Feb. 1 to consider applications and award grants. The board would also provide reading instruction training, resource materials and other assistance. HB 2676 was approved by the Senate Education committee this past week.

In addition, a bill with the long-term goal of training more teachers to be able to identify and help students with learning disabilities has cleared the Senate and is now awaiting further consideration by the House of Representatives.

It seems unlikely that any single approach will solve every challenge as we work to help Oklahoma children improve their reading skills. Such a task may require a comprehensive approach that includes programs addressing learning disabilities as well as finding ways to give students extra attention to help them read at grade level.

One thing is certain—if we truly want to improve a child’s chances for success throughout life and create a more prosperous state, we must use every tool available to improve reading levels for Oklahoma children.

As always, I welcome your comments on state government. Please feel free to contact me by writing to Senator Charles Wyrick at the State Capitol, Room 521, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105; call me at (405) 521-5561.

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