The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Arkansas a $38 million grant to improve literacy in the state, and today I’d like to talk about the benefits to Arkansas.
And it starts with a simple fact: Reading changes everything.
Literacy is not just another choice in life. For students who fail to develop high-level reading skills, life will always be a struggle. If our young people are going to reach their goals and dreams, they must know how to read.
During my five years in office, I have encouraged educators to create a culture of reading. This federal grant rewards and acknowledges the progress we’ve made. The money also helps us move closer to building that culture of reading.
Arkansas received the maximum amount allowed under the five-year grant. The state Department of Education will be able to fund reading projects with this $38 million to districts around the state. Our goal is to improve literacy at all levels of school, from preschool through the 12th grade.
The department will use the money to implement the Arkansas Comprehensive Literacy State Development Program. The goal of the program is to provide Arkansas children access to quality education, to improve the skills of teachers who teach reading, to strengthen literacy instruction, and my favorite goal, to create a culture of reading.
The department will receive the first $1.1 million of the grant this year. With the grant money, we will further increase our efforts to reach children who are living in poverty, children who aren’t fluent in English, and children with disabilities.
The rate of literacy in Arkansas has improved since 2017 when we launched the statewide reading initiative we named R.I.S.E., or the Reading Initiative for Student Excellence.
With this grant, we will expand our current programs and provide new resources that will reach even more students.
I am grateful for the grant, and I am proud the U.S. Department of Education is aware of our efforts to improve literacy and reading instruction.
Since we launched R.I.S.E., more than 6,000 teachers kindergarten through sixth grade have trained at R.I.S.E. Academies, and more than 3,000 teachers kindergarten through the 12th grade have received intensive training in the science of reading, or phonics.
Through the grant, we will provide books to families through a partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The education department will increase the number of R.I.S.E. activities at the pre-K level.
Many aspects of our state’s success depend on the collective strength of our reading skill. But it is also a personal matter for me. I love to read. When I was a boy, I checked out the Hardy Boys books from the library in Gravette. I love to read history books, and I have learned much about leadership from books I have read. The First Lady and I passed our love of reading down to our children and grandchildren. As governor, I want to pass that legacy along to all Arkansans.
This $38 million grant will go a long way in helping us to give the gift of reading to our students.