Congressman Yarmuth Introduces Literacy Bill, But Education Remains An Issue For Congress

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth says reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act remains a challenge and certain programs that need updating are falling by the wayside.

Yarmuth has introduced the Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation ACT—or LEARN Act—in the House and an identical bill has also been introduced in the Senate. Both bills face uphill battles as Congress discusses reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act, which hasn’t been updated for over a decade.

The $2.3 billion per year LEARN Act would allocate funds for states and localities to develop and implement comprehensive literacy plans for children from birth to 12th grade.

The federal government currently supports three literacy programs at the same cost, but Yarmuth and others say those programs are outdated.

On the House floor Yarmuth introduced the bill saying, “research clearly demonstrates that a literacy-rich environment starting in early childhood is a critical prerequisite for high school graduation, college success and career readiness.”

Yarmuth admits the chances of it passing the House are unlikely, but in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where the bill has been attached to the reauthorization of NCLB Act, there’s greater possibility it will passed.

“I don’t think there’s a great chance it would pass [the House]. I think the most likely scenario for success is the Senate acts and we bring it over from there,” he says.

The National Center for Family Literacy, located in Louisville, supports the comprehensive nature of the bill, which requires states to set up leadership teams to support their individual literacy plans, says vice president Emily Kirkpatrick.

“One issue with literacy that often comes up is that people gravitate from solving it from a particular grade level perspective and the real issue is you have to approach it far more systemically,” she says.

Several literacy bills have been introduced over the decades and each “tend to follow the attention and the needs of the nation, particularly tied to education and workforce needs,” she says.

Literacy, like many issues, has “fallen victim” to politics and the economy, she says.

“So very good and innovative ideas have been proposed that really can’t move forward beyond the committee level because partisanship on some cases and on others, very complex financial issues,” Kirkpatrick says.

Yarmuth says the national costs for not supporting literacy is more than $300 billion over the lifetime of these individuals. While costs are difficult to determine, studies like this one from the Alliance for Excellent Education do estimate high costs to society for dropouts.

And the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2011 Double Jeopardy report shows, among other findings, that, “one in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.”

Devin Katayama

Devin Katayama host middays for WFPL and reports on education and other Louisville issues.

@DevinWFPL

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