Reading First, funded through the U.S. Department of Education, helps states and districts establish scientifically based reading programs for students enrolled in kindergarten through grade three through professional development, screening and diagnostic tools, and reading assessments. There have been cuts in the program but state educators are unsure when they may occur.


    What’s definite is that federal cuts to the Reading First program will affect Delaware schools. However, there seems to be some confusion as to when those cuts will actually occur.
 
   Reading First, funded through the U.S. Department of Education, helps states and districts establish scientifically based reading programs for students enrolled in kindergarten through grade three through professional development, screening and diagnostic tools, and reading assessments.
 
   Pamela Herrera, director of elementary instruction, said Capital School District has been told it will see a 60% cut in its Reading First funding for the upcoming school year and there’s no guarantee there will be funding for the following year.
 
   At Lake Forest School District, the other Kent County district that receives the funds, Superintendent Dr. Daniel Curry agreed when he said in an interview last week they expected half of their funding cut for the two elementary schools that are part of the grant program.
 
   Assistant Superintendent Tina Huff said Capital staff did receive a memo from the Department of Education to hold off on preparing Reading First budgets because there may be supplemental money, however there was nothing specific.
 
   Contrary to some of the districts’ expectations, Secretary of Education Valerie Woodruff said the Delaware Department of Education has enough funding right now to sustain the current programs at a decent level for 2008-2009, but anticipates some significant cuts for 2009-2010.
 
   “We’re in pretty good shape for this year, but we’re going to be in not so hot shape for the future,” she said.
 
   Woodruff said Congress is deciding if they really want to continue the program because of issues with how it has been administered with the federal Department of Education, even though at a state level, people feel it’s working, she added.
 
   According to U.S. DOE documents, overall funding for the program dropped from $1.02 billion to $3.94 million as of July 1.
 
   In Delaware, that meant a drop from nearly $2.4 million to approximately $900,000, according to an email from Kimberly Hoffman, executive assistant to the Secretary of Education.

    Normally, Capital, which has four Reading First schools, receives approximately $400,000, but that number will be closer to $155,000, as of now.
 
   Herrera said they use the funds to have literacy coaches in each building who work in classrooms with teachers, giving them help with training, professional development and collecting data. They also learn how to teach reading for all levels of students, including those who excel and those who struggle. It’s really like extra on-the-job training, she added.
 
   “The goal is to help them better meet the needs of every student in the classroom,” Herrera said.
 
   Reading is such an important subject because students who are proficient readers have better math, science and social studies scores, she said.
 
   For now Capital is trying to find other funding sources to help keep the program at its current level, which means district-wide coaches, not just in the four elementary schools, she said. Another hindrance is that similar programs such as early reading intervention already have been cut at the state level.
 
   “It becomes increasingly more difficult to find the resources to support the things that we know are effective,” Herrera said.

Email Jayne Gest at jayne.gest@doverpost.com