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Minnesota Legislature

Teachers of early readers

Published (3/6/2009)
By Kris Berggren
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Two bills promoting preschool literacy programs receive bipartisan support for their long-lasting benefits, but not their price tag.

Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) sponsors HF1046 that would appropriate $3 million in the 2010-11 biennium to grow the Minnesota Reading Corps, an AmeriCorps program providing trained reading tutors for children from age 3 to grade three in Head Start settings and elsewhere.

Eighty percent of the first Minnesota Reading Corps “graduates” who began the program six years ago, and 85 percent of the second group, have attained proficiency on their third grade MCA-II reading assessments, said Audrey Suker, executive director of ServeMinnesota, a nonprofit organization coordinating AmeriCorps placements.

Such “proven results” demonstrate the program’s value, Suker told the House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Division March 3. She said increased funding would expand the program’s reach to serve an additional 10,000 children, while leveraging $15.5 million in federal funds and $1.5 million in private funds.

Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina) said he’s “very supportive” of the program because of its “data-driven” emphasis on “building core skills,” but in the interest of balancing the budget offered unsuccessfully an amendment to reduce the appropriation by $1 million.

Mariani countered that he would like to maximize “pretty modest investments in these areas for pretty big payoff for the K-12 system.”

His bill was approved and sent to the House Finance Committee. A companion, SF851, sponsored by Sen. Kathy Saltzman (DFL-Woodbury), is scheduled to be heard March 12 by the Senate E-12 Education Budget and Policy Division.

Division Chairwoman Rep. Nora Slawik (DFL-Maplewood) sponsors HF223, which would appropriate $1 million in the upcoming biennium to WordsWork, another early literacy program serving 2,800 Head Start children in 16 counties. Independent evaluators found its students, all from populations linked to risk of poor academic achievement, significantly outperformed a comparison group of similar students on last year’s standardized tests.

It was held for possible inclusion in an omnibus early childhood finance bill. Its companion, SF291, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood), awaits action by the Senate E-12 Education Budget and Policy Division.

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