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Governor Seeks Budget Boost for State Reading Program

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VINTON, Iowa - Potential cuts in funding for one Iowa reading program could cause setbacks for students. At least that's the claim made by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad on Monday. In his weekly news conference, the governor accused Senate Democrats of underfunding the Iowa Reading Research Center by 50 percent.

The center is really a collection of online support programs and services offered to districts by the Iowa Department of Education. The idea is to help school districts make children better readers.

Currently only 49 districts, 15 percent of the state's total, are participating in the reading efforts because it's an experimental program. But another 340 districts, public and private, wanted to get teachers trained to use the system this summer and begin using the state reading resources next fall. The governor wanted to fund the Iowa Reading Research Center in fiscal 2015 with a budget of $3.9-million dollars. The governor said the appropriations bill, passed by Senate Democrats, is currently only half that.

Vinton-Shellsburg is one of the districts hoping to begin using the reading resources this fall. Superintendent Mary Jo Hainstock said teachers can usually tell which students are proficient at reading and which ones are having trouble. But she said what's more difficult is knowing exactly how to boost reading skills with each struggling student.

"Is it a fluency issue, a decoding issue or a comprehension issue? So these screeners can really determine which level you need to really roll that back and do some interventions. It's not a one size fits all," Hainstock said.

The "screeners" are part of an early warning literacy system that schools can use if they sign up for the state's reading program. It's not only a way to help detect students struggling with reading but also determine the particular weakness for that student.

Hainstock said Vinton-Shellsburg heard good reports from the other schools that were already part of the program. So the plan was to send ten elementary teachers from the district's two elementary schools to the summer training. That way they'd be ready to start targeted reading instruction next fall. But program leaders at the Iowa Department of Education said without full legislative funding, it won't be possible to open the program to every school district that wants to take part.

Hainstock said the state is mandating certain reading goals for districts. Current first graders must be proficient in reading by the time they are in third grade or the state wants them held back. Hainstock said if the state is going to require certain performance standards it only makes sense to provide the resources to meet those standards.

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