Reading & Literacy

Elimination of ‘Reading First’ Funding Advances

By Alyson Klein — June 27, 2008 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The full Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday approved a fiscal 2009 spending measure that would eliminate funding for the controversial Reading First program, while providing modest increases for other programs serving disadvantaged students and those in special education.

The bill, which was approved on a 26-3 vote, would provide about $61.8 billion for the U.S. Department of Education for fiscal 2009, which begins Oct. 1. That would be a 4.2 percent increase over the current fiscal year.

On June 19, a House Appropriations subcommittee also voted to scrap the Reading First state grants program as part of a similar 2009 spending bill financing education, labor, health, and other programs.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings urged lawmakers to reconsider their decision. State-reported performance data for the program “indicates impressive gains in reading comprehension,” she wrote in a June 25 letter to leaders of both chambers’ committees on appropriations and education.

“Zeroing out Reading First would endanger our academic progress, send the wrong message to teachers, and, worst of all, do a disservice to our nation’s neediest students,” Secretary Spellings wrote.

Created as part of the No Child Left Behind Act, which became law in 2002, the Reading First program was financed at about $1 billion annually until this fiscal year. Congress slashed the funding to $393 million for fiscal 2008, after a series of reports by the Education Department’s inspector general suggested that conflicts of interest had occurred among officials and contractors who helped implement the program in its early years.

The Senate panel did not discuss the decision to kill funding for Reading First during debate over the fiscal 2009 education spending bill. But in the House, Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, cited the results of a preliminary federal evaluation of Reading First, released May 1, which found that the program has had no impact on students’ reading comprehension.

Emergency Spending Bill

The Senate Appropriations Committee also approved $14.5 billion for Title I grants for districts, a 4.3 percent increase over fiscal 2008. And it voted to hike spending to help states cover the cost of educating students in special education, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, to $11.4 billion, a 4.1 percent increase over this fiscal year.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that deals with education, called the proposed bottom line for the IDEA “woefully inadequate, but better than what we’ve done.”

Meanwhile, the full Senate yesterday, on a 92-6 vote, gave final approval to an emergency-spending bill financing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that would also permit the federal government to continue reimbursing schools for administrative and most student-transportation costs covered by Medicaid, until at least next spring. A Bush administration directive sought to halt the practice.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, issued a final rule in December that sought to eliminate the reimbursements that school districts receive for certain administrative and transportation expenses from the Medicaid program. Districts receive such payments to cover the costs of transporting some students in special education, for instance.

But, also in December, Congress approved legislation that keeps any school-related changes to Medicaid from taking effect until July 1. The spending bills would extend the moratorium on changes to the school reimbursements until April 1 of next year. Lawmakers who support the moratorium hope that by that point they can negotiate potential changes with the next administration—or just leave the reimbursement program in place, lobbyists said.

The emergency-spending measure would also create a “new GI bill” to expand education benefits for veterans of the armed forces who have served since Sept. 11, 2001. It would provide more than $62 billion over 10 years to help cover the cost of books and tuition, and a monthly living stipend.

But the bill does not include $400 million to provide a one-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000, a program that gives federal aid to make up for diminished timber revenues in counties that are home to national forests.

A version of the legislation initially passed by the Senate last month had included the money, but it was stripped out as part of a compromise between Democratic leaders in Congress and President Bush, who had threatened to veto the bill if it contained too much domestic spending.

Without the money, some districts will be forced to make dramatic budget cuts, including laying off employees, supporters of the provision said.

The House of Representatives approved the emergency-spending bill June 19 by a vote of 416-12. President Bush is expected to sign it.

Related Tags:


Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
Challenging the Stigma: Emotions and STEM
STEM isn't just equations and logic. Join this webinar and discover how emotions fuel innovation, creativity, & problem-solving in STEM!
Content provided by Project Lead The Way

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Reading & Literacy Applying the 'Science of Reading': 3 State Leaders on Putting Policy Into Practice
Officials discussed how their states have attempted a multifaceted approach to reading improvement.
4 min read
Katie Jenner, Indiana Secretary of Education, speaks during a presentation of the proposed state spending plan during an announcement in Indianapolis on Jan. 4, 2023.
Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner speaks about a proposed state spending plan on Jan. 4, 2023, in Indianapolis. Indiana tracks students' 3rd grade reading progress and the tools and supports districts are deploying.
Michael Conroy/AP
Reading & Literacy How One District Moved to a 'Knowledge-Building' Curriculum: 3 Key Takeaways
Don't expect teachers to be experts in every subject, and make sure to address comprehension strategies, too, say district leaders.
4 min read
First grade students illustrate a story they wrote together in Megan Gose’s classroom at Moorsbridge Elementary School in Portage, Mich., on Nov. 29, 2023.
First grade students illustrate a story they wrote together in Megan Gose’s classroom at Moorsbridge Elementary School in Portage, Mich., on Nov. 29, 2023.
Emily Elconin for Education Week
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Quiz
Quiz Yourself: How Much Do You Know About Foundational Reading Skills?
Answer 9 questions about foundational reading skills.
Content provided by WordFlight
Reading & Literacy Opinion How to Help Students With Their Writing. 4 Educators Share Their Secrets
In many classrooms, students are handcuffed by restrictive templates for assignments instead of getting to practice how to create.
13 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."