March 29, 2013

The Rescue Costs

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Oklahoma’s read-or-fail law prescribes ways for schools to help students who don’t read well.

The methods include regular monitoring, more in-school time spent on reading, tutoring and drawing up a reading curriculum. For students who fail, schools can reduce student-teacher ratios, use small-group learning, extend the school day or provide summer reading academies.

Most of those cost money. But intervention costs far less than the extra $8,000-plus in state and federal funds for each student who repeats third grade.

Oklahoma’s reading act came with additional funding, but recent appropriations have dried up.

Schools received $6.2 million for K-3 reading intervention in fiscal 2012 but nothing in 2013, so many schools carried over part of the 2012 funding.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi is seeking $6.5 million for the Reading Sufficiency Act for the rest of 2013 and $6.2 million for 2014. The state also has about $4 million in federal money for teacher training.

Mark Twain Elementary received about $8,000 in carried-over reading-act funding, which Teas said she is using for teacher salaries during the winter intersession. That intersession is free for students, but availability is limited, depending on how many teachers the school can afford to pay.

“There is never enough money to do all we can for students,” Teas said. “But we are prioritizing our funds to the best of our ability.”

It is difficult to compare per-pupil spending by Oklahoma and Florida on their reading laws because of the timing and targeting of the spending.

Unlike Oklahoma, Florida began offering extra reading-law money only the fiscal year the law took effect. From fiscal 2003 to 2005, Florida spent $10 million each year in federal money for training K-3 teachers, reading coaches and principals, according to state data. It also set aside $25 million in 2004 and 2005 for summer reading programs for mostly third graders, but also some 12th graders, who faced retention, according to state data. Adjusted for inflation, the total equates to about $97 million today.

If Barresi’s requests are approved, Oklahoma will have spent at least $23 million on the reading act from 2012 to 2014 for K-3. The state may appropriate additional money after the first wave of retained students.

Florida’s K-3 enrollment a decade ago was two and a half times Oklahoma’s K-3 enrollment today.