Tobacco money to help young readers
Tobacco dollars will add reading teachers at Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary in Littleton and beef up the school library at Park Elementary in Durango.
They'll drop reading group sizes from 20 to 7 at Letford Elementary in rural Johnstown and add mentors for 300 struggling readers at Bertha Heid Elementary in Mapleton.
The 408 recipients of Gov. Bill Owens' Read to Achieve grant program, funded largely by the state's tobacco settlement, were named Thursday. Whoops of joy filled the winning schools.
"You just made my day," said Principal Marcie Denham at Durango's Park Elementary.
State Board of Education members approved the recipient list, which was culled from 605 applicants across Colorado. A total of $26.9 million was approved for the first year of the three-year program.
Many schools sought multiple-year grants. Another $18 million was awarded in year two and $16.9 million was awarded in year three, for a three-year total of $61.9 million.
Keeping the grant money isn't automatic.
Schools must move 25 percent of their struggling readers to proficiency on statewide reading tests by June 30, 2002, to keep dollars for a second year. They must repeat that feat to keep grant money for year three.
Per student, the grants ranged from a minimum of $115 to a maximum of $1,650. The average per-pupil amount doled out was $1,322.
Read to Achieve seeks to ensure that all Colorado students are reading at grade level by the fourth grade. Schools applied for grant money to target struggling second- and third-graders.
In all, 21,538 struggling readers across the state are covered by the grant awards.
Another $16 million remains to be awarded. Terri Rayburn, who chairs the Read to Achieve grants board, said additional grants will be awarded over the next two years.
Some lawmakers worried that rural schools were not seeking the grants because they lacked staff. Only 3 percent of schools in southwestern Colorado applied for the extra dollars.
Rayburn said at least half the applications from each of the state's six regions won funding. But she said the board will strive to ensure that all interested schools apply.
"We're not done with our work yet," Rayburn said.
Money will begin showing up in schools next month. Educators said it's sorely needed.
In Johnstown, between Longmont and Greeley, Letford Elementary's lone reading specialist said it's been hard to serve 126 struggling readers.
"We have lots of kids going without any help, and it's really been killing us," teacher Kathy Carpenter said.