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A new federal literacy institute has announced $3.2 million in grants to 36 research or demonstration projects aimed at developing literacy and basic skills in adults and children.

The grants made this month are the first awarded by the National Literacy Institute, which was created last year under the National Literacy Act. Distributed among 21 states, the awards went to libraries, state and local literacy programs, school districts, universities, and research institutions, among other entities.

Projects aimed at both children and their parents were a major focus of the grants.

The school system in Fairfax County, Va., for example, was among four districts that received some $100,000 each for family-literacy programs. Fairfax educators will use their grant award for a literacy program intermixing non-English-speaking parents and their secondary school children in literacy and basic-skills classes. Other such efforts provide literacy training for parents and their children through Head Start and other preschool programs.

Among the other projects, an $87,845 grant to Harvard University's office of sponsored research will support research efforts examining how parents' use of print in the home affects their children's literacy development. And a $49,830 grant to the Western New York Public Broadcasting Association will help in finding ways to use the public-televison show "Reading Rainbow'' to cultivate family literacy.

"We believe the creative and innovative projects being awarded funding today will help the institute meet the challenges laid out in the national education goals,'' Franmarie Kennedy-Keel, the interim director of the institute, said in announcing the awards.

The national goals set by the President and the nation's governors include the statement that, by 2000, "every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and to exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.'' The institute was established in part to assist in meeting that goal.

Eight school districts studied by the General Accounting Office during the 1990-91 school year spent an average of 73 percent of their Chapter 1 grants on classroom services, according to a new report. Most of those funds financed the salaries of teachers and aides.

On average, 17 percent of the funds paid for support services and 10 percent for administrative costs.

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