Mississippi schools will soon be able to compete for a share of a two million dollar grant aimed at bolstering literacy scores around the state. Education officials believe the funds could help schools develop a plan that would allow more students to pass the looming third grade reading gate assessments.
This year, Mississippi's third graders must score a passing grade on a statewide reading assessment before moving onto to fourth grade. Forty-six school districts already have reading coaches. Now, the department of education is offering schools around the state the chance to compete for a share of a 2 million dollar grant to expand their literacy programs. Kim Benton is with the Department of Education.
"One thing we're asking schools to do is to develop a comprehensive reading plan," says Benton. "We're looking for intensive interventions and systems of support to help children who are struggling have the support necessary to reach proficiency in reading."
Those interventions may be any evidence-based approach that increases reading skills. They may include after-school and summer programs or the hiring of a new literacy coach. However, some members of the board of education fear the money may not go to schools that really need it. Newly appointed to the state board of education, Danny Spreitler was the only member to vote against the grant.
"Dialing for dollars doesn't work for me," says Spreitler. "If we have $2 million and we have an obligation to educate the children of the state let's go put it to work. We know where our districts are. We have all of this data. We know which one are under-performing; where our children have the greatest need. If they have the greatest need, do they have the best grant writer?"
Board of Education Chairman John Kelly of Gulfport says he agrees that every school should have the chance at the grant, but Kelly believes it's ultimately about results.
"We want to always make sure that any organization in a school district in this state has the capability of applying for the grant, and be competitive," says Kelly. "But at the end of the day, it's up to that school district to demonstrate that they have the capacity to actually implement the grant. That's what's most important.
Education officials hope to award the grants by the end of 2014.