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Legislators Approve Emergency Rules for Literacy Tutoring Grants

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LITTLE ROCK – The families of about 20,000 elementary students will soon be notified that they are eligible for a $500 grant to pay for tutors to help their children learn to read at grade level.

The Legislative Council approved emergency rules, clearing the way for literacy tutoring grants to be awarded.

The grants will go to students in kindergarten through the third grade who have trouble learning to read. Specifically, kindergarteners qualify if they score in the lowest 10th percentile on tests that assess their reading skills. First graders qualify if they score in the lowest 15th percentile and second graders if they score in the lowest 20th percentile.

Third graders are eligible if they scored in the lowest 25th percentile on the previous end-of-year literacy assessment. Also, they will be eligible if they are not promoted at the end of this school year.

The state Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has developed a list of qualified tutors. Education officials told legislators that tutors underwent a “stringent process” in order to get on the approved list.

Parents can pick a tutor from the list, and the state will pay the tutor directly. Depending on the type of lessons used by the tutor, $500 will be enough for 10 to 25 sessions.

The literacy tutoring grants are just one element in a sweeping overhaul of public education proposed by the governor and enacted by the legislature last year. It is called the LEARNS Act, and it also includes hiring 120 specialists, or literacy coaches, to teach K-3 students in schools that received a “D” or an “F” on school report cards.

Also, the state is developing a universal high-quality screening test to better ensure that all young students get help if they’re struggling to learn how to read.

In 2017 the legislature approved the Right to Read Act, and legislators enhanced the act in 2019 to require schools to teach reading with materials and curricula that are supported by the science of reading. Teaching strategies for children with dyslexia must be based on evidence and grounded in scientific methodology.

The state’s goal is for 100 percent of school districts to use materials based on the science of reading, and for all teachers of young students to be trained in those scientific methods of teaching literacy.

The Legislative Council is the group of lawmakers who meet in the interim between sessions to monitor the operations of state agencies.

When the Council approved the emergency rules for the literacy tutoring grants, it also passed a motion directing education officials to prepare annual reports on the effectiveness of the grant program. Lawmakers want to know how many children improve their reading scores after they get the $500 worth of tutoring.

To be on the approved list of tutors, you must be a certified teacher in elementary education or reading, or have a degree in education, English or another subject requiring expertise in reading and literacy. All tutors must have training in the science of reading.

The $500 grants will be for students in public schools and open enrollment charter schools.

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