Georgia awarded nearly $180 million for literacy in schools


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Georgia will have an additional $179.2 million to spend on improving reading in public schools over the next half decade after winning another literacy grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

“This federal grant will boost our state partnership to raise literacy rates and ultimately improve overall academic success for Georgia students,” Gov. Brian Kemp said in a statement Thursday with news of the award.

The federal Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grant builds on prior awards to Georgia. In 2016, the state won $61.5 million. In 2011, Georgia won $25.7 million in what was then called the Striving Readers program. (The state was among six that shared in $180 million, the amount just awarded to Georgia alone.)

The Georgia Department of Education distributed the 2016 proceeds to 38 school districts through a competitive process.

Some local educators have seen gains in literacy scores after using the money to buy reading-focused tests and curriculum for younger students. Rising scores on mandatory state tests that start in third grade have shown gains for students exiting Worth County Primary School in Sylvester. Principal Jared Worthy asked last spring why more money isn't flowing to the earlier grades, so more schools can do what he's been doing.

“We’re expected to build the firm foundation with nothing,” Worthy told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in May.

Early literacy has become a focus of the state's top leaders. During the last legislation session, lawmakers mandated screening for dyslexia and pushed for changes in teacher literacy training.

The state has been making progress: The percentage of third graders who scored "proficient" or better on their English Language Arts test last spring rose by five points as did the percentage with "Lexile" scores that showed they are reading on or above grade level. However, more than half of the third graders still cannot communicate well, with 58% scoring below proficient on the test, which includes skills in reading, writing and speaking.

An AJC analysis showed a strong relationship between scores and poverty.

Officials say the new money will help improve a skill that is essential for learning all subjects after third grade.

“Reading is an essential part of all other educational attainment; literacy is the key that unlocks the door to a lifetime of learning,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said in a news release with the governor’s office Thursday. “Being awarded nearly $180 million through a competitive federal grant process shows that Georgia’s literacy efforts are viewed as strong, sustainable, and worthy of investment.”