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This 'gift' is urgently needed by Idaho kids

| February 7, 2021 1:00 AM

Other than investing heavily in Idaho’s vaccine program — which is limited anyway by having far greater demand for the product than availability — it’s hard to find a better covid-busting expenditure than Gov. Brad Little’s call for a $20 million statewide summer reading program.

Earlier this week, state officials gave the House Education Committee a sneak peek at the proposal. Disappointingly but predictably, it did not go over well with some committee members.

“I guess it’s pretty vague and (literacy is) a nice-feel good category to put a bunch of money (into), but I want to know how it is going to be spent and where is the accountability in all the other funds that we have already sent that direction?” said Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, according to Idaho Education News.

Another legislator, Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, successfully insulted educators statewide by suggesting that teachers shouldn’t be rewarded with a program like that.

“…many of these kids are in the classroom and the reason that they are suffering is because they’re in the classroom with teachers who don’t want to be there teaching,” Ehardt said. “So why would we be giving money to classrooms that may contain teachers that don’t want to be there?”

According to Greg Wilson of the governor’s office and Alex Adams, administrator of the Division of Financial Management, Little envisions a six-week, half-day summer program taught by established teachers. The program would be taught in person, not via the internet.

Every district and charter school would receive funding to operate the program, meeting the governor’s goal to improve reading scores for students through third grade.

This is not some wadding up of taxpayer cash tossed into a bottomless bureaucratic pit, or a "feel-good" exercise. Readily available research has found that through third grade, students are learning to read. After that, they’re reading to learn. Studies have shown that if a student is not proficient in reading by the start of fourth grade, much of what they read from that point on becomes incomprehensible. The odds are greater that that student will receive a poor education and with it, the difficulties that come with always being behind.

That’s why Gov. Little and many other education-focused leaders are investing heavily in reading for young children. It makes even more sense than usual now, when so many kids have fallen behind in reading because of the disruptions caused by COVID-19.

Notwithstanding ignorant statements by legislators who would find fault with a gift of diamonds if they came from Brad Little, his reading program could prove to be a timely present not just for young Idaho school children, but for the entire state long-term. We look forward to more details about the program and urge citizens to weigh its merits on cost and benefits rather than political ideology or personal animosity.

Literacy isn’t a luxury. It’s the starting point for a productive and active citizen.