Third grade reading, adult ed must be restored

For Immediate Release
March 24, 2015

Contact: Stacey Range Messina
517.487.5436 |  517.214.5994 after 3 p.m.


New reports prove need for investments, not cuts

LANSING – A House Appropriations subcommittee today eliminated all funding next year for adult education and for Gov. Snyder’s proposed third grade reading initiative, bucking recommendations of two new reports proving the dire need to boost both areas.

Promoting Early Literacy in Michigan,” released today by the Michigan League for Public Policy, asserts that the ability to read by the end of third grade is central to a child’s success in school, life-long earning potential, and ability to contribute to the nation’s economy. But in 2013 almost two of every five Michigan third-graders did not demonstrate reading proficiency on the MEAP, according to the Michigan Department of Education. About 10,000 of those 40,000 students scored at the most elementary level. Most students who fail to achieve this critical milestone fall further behind and often drop out before earning a high school diploma.

Willing to Work and Ready to Learn: More Adult Education Would Strengthen Michigan’s Economy,” released by the Michigan League for Public Policy earlier this month, shows that too few adults are getting the basic skills education they need to succeed in occupational training and find a way out of low-paying, dead-end jobs and into careers that can support their families.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s 2015-16 fiscal year budget recommendation included $25 million for a third grade reading initiative and $22 million for adult education programs.

The House K-12 School Aid Subcommittee removed those items during its meeting this morning. Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Twp. and chair of the committee, said he suspected the reading funds would be restored before the final budget.

“For the subcommittee to remove this funding is extremely shortsighted,” said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. “Michigan is not reaching anywhere near enough of the working age adults who lack basic skills to be part of the state’s workforce development push and too many of Michigan’s children can’t read by the end of third grade. We need to boost these programs, not cut the little funding available now.

“Rep. Kelly and some of his colleagues may have witnessed this problem as they visited local schools during National Reading Month and read to the students over the past few weeks,” Jacobs continued. “We applaud every legislator’s attempt to connect with their local school children by reading them a book, but what kids really need is for these policymakers to invest in their families and help more kids become better readers so they can succeed in life.”

The Senate Appropriations K-12, Education and School Aid Subcommittee is scheduled to take up its own funding bill Wednesday morning.

Today’s early literacy report details how policymakers could make huge gains in third-grade reading proficiency by addressing poverty and strengthening existing early intervention programs.

Research shows that family income is the most reliable predictor of academic success, and that efforts to help children must begin long before they reach third grade or even kindergarten. In Michigan, school districts with larger percentages of low-income students also had larger percentages of students performing below proficiency. Students from low-income families are more likely to face barriers such as illness, transportation problems, no access to quality child care or enrichment activities, unhealthy housing, mobility, homelessness, and unsafe neighborhoods.

National tests show that four of every five Michigan fourth-graders from families with income below or marginally above the poverty level ($24,000 for a family of four in 2013) did not demonstrate proficiency in reading in 2013 compared with roughly one of every two higher income students.

Well-established research also shows that learning starts in infancy, long before formal learning begins, with the most rapid and critical development occurring in the first three years of life. As such, programs that foster maternal and infant mental and physical health are key strategies to improve optimum physical, cognitive and social-emotional development. States that have seen the most dramatic improvements in early literacy have made substantial investments in early interventions.

“Schools alone cannot solve this problem,” said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, the League’s Kids Count in Michigan Project Director and author of the report. “Michigan has a variety of programs that provide the foundation to literacy and academic achievement, but policymakers have not directed funding to address the level of need nor have they supported policies to improve economic security. These issues are well-known to have a negative impact on child health and academic achievement.”

The report includes a series of recommendations to improve literacy among early elementary children in Michigan, including providing adequate funding to existing systems for young children and their families such as prenatal care, childhood lead poisoning prevention, Early On, the child care subsidy, and Healthy Kids Dental. The League also recommends addressing the role and causes of poverty by increasing the state Earned Income Tax Credit (included in Proposal 1), reforming the criminal justice system that disproportionately affects communities of color, and enacting policies that support successful re-entry after prison.

“Without addressing these critical issues and investing in programs that are proven to work, our children will continue to struggle with reading and no number of visiting readers can fix that,” Jacobs said.


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The Michigan League for Public Policy,, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.