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Key Senator Seeks to Renew Federal Reading Focus

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of the Senate's Team ESEA, who has long had a major interest in literacy, reintroduced a comprehensive school literacy bill Tuesday.

The legislation is known as the LEARN Act, which stands for Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation. The timing of the bill is key, as Murray said on a call with reporters. Literacy programs took a major hit in the recent budget bill, which zeroed out basically every small reading and writing program. The Obama administration had proposed consolidating those programs into a broader, competitive funding stream aimed at reading and writing. But now, unless Congress restores the programs, there's no money left to consolidate much of anything.

"Pushing this forward right now ... says that we as a country understand this has to be a priority," Murray said. "We need to focus on making sure literacy is part of our overall federal education policy."

This isn't the first time that Murray has introduced the bill, which is one of the most prominent attempts to define a federal role in reading instruction. That's been a touchy area of policy ever since the Reading First debacle. This new bill doesn't make changes, other than some tweaks in the area of early-childhood education and the role of school libraries.

The Obama administration likes Murray's bill. Carmel Martin, the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development, said the administration shares Murray's focus on the neediest students, and on the need for a comprehensive approach.

In a nutshell, the bill would:

•Authorize $2.35 billion for comprehensive literacy programs from birth all the way up to 12th grade. About 10 percent of the money would go to early-childhood programs, another 40 percent to students in kindergarten through fifth grade, and another 40 percent for kids in grades 6 through 12.

• Help states bolster their literacy plans and require them to hold a district-level competition for the funds. States would have to target the grants to the neediest students.

• Require states to review the literacy coursework needed for teacher certification.

• Bolster the quality of literacy programs by providing money for professional development, including analyzing student data to improve literacy instruction, and using a bunch of different assesments (diagnostic, formative, summative) to inform instruction.

More information here.

Read a commentary Murray wrote for Education Week on the bill here. And check out my colleague, Nirvi Shah's take on the Response to Intervention piece of the legislation here.

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