Literacy bill clears House and heads to Senate

Mar 19, 2012

 Children’s literacy programs could benefit from community assistance authorized through a bill approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Bill 2676, by state Rep. Jabar Shumate, would create a “Bridge to Literacy” program designed to ensure every Oklahoma child can read at grade-level by the end of the third grade. To achieve that goal, the program would train volunteers to work as tutors through community organizations and local churches.

“We have many children in our local community who need help to learn to read at grade-level,” said Shumate, D-Tulsa. “Fortunately, we have many volunteers in our community willing to help those children. This legislation provides for a partnership between the state and our community organizations and churches to address crucial literacy needs.”

Citizen advocates lobbied lawmakers to support the bill on the first day of session, and Dr. Major Lewis Jemison, pastor of the St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, recently appeared before a House committee to urge passage of House Bill 2676.

“This legislation opens the door for community based organizations and churches to help children learn to read and succeed, and I believe its long-term impact will be tremendous,” Jemison said. “House Bill 2676 provides another important way for community citizens to do their part to aid schools and parents.”

“The enthusiasm for this bill has been contagious, and I believe the support of so many private citizens has helped build legislative support for this measure,” Shumate said.

Under House Bill 2676, the State Department of Education would request proposals and seek applications for the program after October 1, 2012. Eligible applicants would include nonprofit organizations; community-based programs, centers, organizations or services; and churches or religious organizations.

The proposed reading programs would have to benefit children through the fourth grade and be offered before school, after school, on Saturdays or during summer months. The programs would focus on enabling children to read at the appropriate level and provide assessments and measure of reading skills to determine success.

The state board would then be required to award grants by February 1 of each year and provide reading instruction training, resource materials on reading instruction and remediation and other assistance.

“The ability to read at grade-level puts a child on the path to academic success through school and into his or her adulthood,” Shumate said.  “Our citizens and community leaders are eager to provide a better support system for these young children, and this program does so in a cost-effective way.”

House Bill 2676 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 93-0 vote. It now proceeds to the state Senate.