On December 10, 2015, President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The language from the Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (or LEARN) Act was incorporated into the final bill.
In 2011, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the LEARN Act. Representative John Yarmuth (D-KY3) introduced companion legislation in the House. NCTE, as part of the Advocates for Literacy Coalition, worked with Senator Murray and her staff and colleagues to make sure that comprehensive literacy was recognized as key to the foundation of all learning from prekindergarten through twelfth grade and across all subject areas. Those efforts paid off, yielding a federal commitment to invest in comprehensive literacy programs from birth through grade 12.
The Act authorizes the Secretary of Education to award grants to states to “develop or enhance comprehensive literacy instruction plans that ensure high-quality instruction and effective strategies in reading and writing for children from early childhood through grade 12, including English learners and children with disabilities.” The Act focuses specifically on low-income or high-needs children. Fifteen percent of funds are allocated for children from birth to age five, 40 percent from kindergarten through grade 5, and 40 percent from grades 6 through 12. It also specifies that state agencies use 95 percent of the monies granted them to be awarded to eligible entities, reserving 5 percent for other uses, such as technical assistance and coordinating with higher education institutions for preservice programs. States may also use a small percentage for developing literacy coach training and administration.
In awarding sub-grants, states must require that districts do the following:
- From birth through kindergarten: provide professional development opportunities for educators and administrators, launch evidence-based early childhood education literacy initiatives, and involve families with staff, administrators, and teachers.
- From kindergarten through grade 5: implement comprehensive literacy instruction plans across content areas for all children, including children with disabilities, English learners, and students reading below grade level; offer intervention and support in reading and writing for struggling students; provide after-school instruction; train principals and support staff; and engage families to support literacy development.
- From grades 6 through 12: include all of the elements specified for K-5 plus assess quality of adolescent literacy instruction, provide time for teachers to collaborate and plan, recruit and train literacy coaches, and form school literacy leadership teams.
It is gratifying that Congress and the President recognize the critical importance of comprehensive literacy. But much work lies ahead. ESSA authorizes LEARN, but it must be funded through an appropriation bill. The omnibus package the House will vote on today includes $190 million for LEARN — a great start, but only enough to fund six or seven state grants. NCTE will continue to advocate for a level of funding that enables children in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to benefit from this program. States awarded funds must also create effective plans for implementing the program. It’s up to us to make sure that states put their plans into action in a way that is equitable and effective.