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No Funeral Yet for Federal 'Striving Readers' Program

The big cuts enacted last week for federal literacy aid may not be a done deal after all, though some analysts have suggested it could be a tough climb to restore even some of them. What may have the best hope of surviving—if still perhaps a faint hope—is a portion of the funds for the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy program.

Over at Politics K-12, my colleague Alyson Klein reports that Senate Democrats introduced a measure Friday that would reverse at least some of the education cuts.

President Barack Obama on March 2 signed a stopgap spending measure that would keep the government open for an additional two weeks while the administration and Congress negotiate the provisions of an overdue budget for fiscal 2011, which began Oct. 1. Essentially, Republicans insisted on a set of cuts totaling $4 billion as part of that extension, including to a variety of education programs. But literacy took an especially hard hit.

The plan put forward on Friday by Democrats from the Senate Appropriations Committee would include $200 million for the Striving Readers program. It apparently would not restore any money for the $67 million Even Start family-literacy program. Also, the plan would not restore aid for Reading Is Fundamental and the National Writing Project, though Richard Long, the government-relations director at the International Reading Association, tells me that the Senate plan would allow those two national organizations to compete for funding under the federal i3, or Investing in Innovation, program. Of course, that assumes that Congress will agree to continue i3, which was created under the federal stimulus legislation from 2009.

One other thing I wanted to note here. Striving Readers is not the same program it used to be. Originally, this was a plan spearheaded by the Bush administration to target adolescent literacy. But starting in fiscal 2010, Congress essentially reinvented the program to support comprehensive approaches to literacy from birth to grade 12. In fact, the name, mentioned at the top of this blog post, is a little longer now: The Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program.

The Alliance for Excellent Education recently put together a policy brief describing this new program and what's been happening. It notes that "46 states are developing comprehensive policies and strategies to strengthen literacy among the nation's students." In an interview, Phillip Lovell, the alliance's vice president for federal advocacy, tells me that the problem for these plans isn't just funding for the current fiscal year. The bigger budget bill recently approved by the House for fiscal 2011 (on a largely party-line vote) would actually go back and eliminate nearly $200 million in fiscal 2010 dollars for the program. Lovell said the U.S. Department of Education still has yet to distribute most of that aid.

Meanwhile, my colleague Sarah Sparks last week reported on the findings from research on the original Striving Readers program.

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