(2/20/19) A recently-filed bill focuses on reading in schools by putting a funding source on the line. 

The legislation, sponsored by St. Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, would tie National School Lunch (NSL) funding to a district’s reading readiness.

The amount of state money distributed is based on the number of kids that receive free or reduced lunches at a school.

“Those are the kids we have to teach to read,” Clark said. “Once you teach them to read, the whole world is open to them.” 

According to the Arkansas Bureau of Legislative Research, schools currently use the money for things like tutoring and professional development. It does not fund food programs.

“I would never starve kids,” Clark said.

“We can be starved for learning opportunities and for enrichment opportunities, for those other kinds of things that are just important almost as to nourish our minds and our bodies,” said Kathy Webb, the executive director of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance.

Webb, a former state lawmaker, argues the bill would penalize the state’s neediest students.

“The purpose of having this category is to provide more assistance to schools where there are concentrations of high poverty,” she said. 

Under the bill, if less than 70 percent of students in grades three through 10 at a public school or open-enrollment public charter school qualify as “ready” or “exceeding” on the state’s assessment for reading and the school does not increase its reading proficiency, a school would have to:

  • Demonstrate to the Arkansas Department of Education that all of its certified teachers have completed the Reading Initiative for Student Excellence (RISE) professional development on the science of reading in the first year
  • Drop down a funding level in the second consecutive year
  • Lose the funding in the third consecutive year

“If you’re going down three years in a row, it’s probably a signal we need to do more than take away your funding,” Clark said. “This bill is not designed to take anyone’s funding. It’s designed to say, ‘We’re going to teach our kids to read.’ If you have a .0001 increase, then you’re fine. If anything, it’s too lenient, but I think it’ll be enough to get some schools that are not focused on reading to focus on reading.”