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A Call Goes Out: Save Federal Aid for Reading Is Fundamental

Something tells me that a "Dear Colleague" letter circulating in Congress to shore up federal support for the Reading Is Fundamental program is just one of many such letters making the rounds in response to President Obama's recent budget request.

The bipartisan letter by Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, and Don Young, R-Alaska, urges fellow House members to join them in resisting Obama's plans to consolidate federal aid for RIF into a new literacy fund the president hopes to create at the U.S. Department of Education. It's part of Obama's larger effort, outlined in his fiscal 2011 budget plan, to merge some 38 existing programs into a smaller set of more flexible funding pots.

"As the nation's oldest and largest children's literacy organization, RIF is a federally authorized program that has been funded by Congress and six administrations without interruption since 1975," the letter says. "Under this new consolidated structure, funding is no longer assured for RIF, leaving over 4 million children who rely on this program without the literacy resources they rely upon."

The letter says that in 2009, RIF provided "over 15 million new books to 4.4 million of the nation's youngest children," including those who are homeless, from low-income families, or living in foster care.

The president's "Effective Teaching and Learning: Literacy" program would consolidate six existing programs, including RIF, which currently receives $25 million; Striving Readers; and Literacy Through School Libraries. I blogged about the proposal earlier this month.

The new program, the Education Department explains in a budget summary, would provide competitive grants to states to support "comprehensive state and local efforts aimed at improving literacy instruction, especially in high-need schools."

The changes President Obama is seeking would require amending the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known in its latest iteration as No Child Left Behind. The House this week was beginning a series of hearings on the reauthorization of the ESEA, though it remains unclear whether Congress will be able to complete work on a measure this year.

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