Reading Growth = Lunch Funding?

Carly Lidzy, Writer

State Senator Alan Clark of District 13 proposed a bill Feb. 18 that he claims would raise reading levels in schools. If passed, the bill will reduce the amount of funding a public school district or open-enrollment public charter school will receive if its overall reading readiness is below a certain percentage.

There is much controversy over this bill, since many see it as just taking lunch money from schools with low reading test scores. “School lunch categorical funding” is the legal term for financial payment that is given to schools with a high percentage of low-socioeconomic class students, which is determined by the amount of reduced and free lunches the school receives. While it may not be “lunch money” in particular being taken away, if this bill is put into effect, this funding can be taken from schools with lower reading levels.

Over the past two months, Clark has posted on Facebook regarding the bill, especially in reference to the controversy the bill has caused. Statements such as “I have been asked why don’t you just hire better teachers?” “There is this very common refrain of ‘Senator Clark, if you would just visit schools,’” and “The fund has nothing to do with food. It has been explained over a thousand times by now,” are some of the highlights of Clark’s posts.

It is hard to determine how much the bill would impact the Bryant district as a whole. Superintendent Karen Walters is wary about how the bill will affect the district.

Our state has changed assessments over the years, and when the assessment changes, it is not statistically accurate to compare scores from one test to another,” Walters said. “Another concern is that the state changes the cut scores, meaning they change what is considered ‘ready’ periodically.”

Bryant uses most of the NSLA funds they receive to give support to students who need it.

“I also have concerns that the funding that is meant to help students needing additional support could lose funding,” Walters said.

With funding comes responsibility and accountability, and there are things not distinctly outlined in the bill.

“I believe that is a very complex issue that includes many issues that are not included in the bill,” Walters said. “Districts have increasing numbers of students that English is not their [first] language, [and] their scores are included in the state assessment. The bill is less than two pages.”

With the bill being so short, there are many concerns not mentioned.

“In my opinion, there need to be many other details fleshed out in a bill before funding would be taken away from districts that are attempting to help students with that NSLA funding,” Walters said.

Confusion regarding the bill has also reached teachers. English teacher Megan Calvillo has been conducting some of her own research to better understand the bill.

“My overall view is that the bill has been misrepresented,” Calvillo said. “It’s too easy to demonize our legislators; instead, I choose to believe that the majority of Americans want a better America, we just disagree on how to get it.”

While many have criticized Clark for the legislation, Calvillo believes critics should take into account what he is really trying to change.

“This senator wants children to be able to read, and he wants government money to be spent responsibly,” Calvillo said. “I agree with both of those values. I do, however, think that the issue of teaching students to read has been oversimplified in this debate.”

As with many issues, Calvillo believes an insider’s insight is needed to help with accuracy.

“As an English teacher, my default response to any non-educator talking about reading education is to feel defensive,” Calvillo said. “I assume that people do not understand the enormity of the task to make every single solitary child a proficient reader. No other country in the history of mankind has attempted this.”

For English teachers, the task of teaching kids to read can be harder than one may think.

“The senator says that he feels sympathy for teachers who are expected to teach reading without being trained to teach reading, which I appreciate very much,” Calvillo said. “But I think at the end of the day, teachers get worn out from being the only ones held accountable.”

What people may not see is that school success relies on many different factors.

“Location, family situation, family financial status, student’s personality, and a myriad of other factors all come into play [with reading proficiency],” Calvillo said.

Calvillo notes that there are only so many things that a teacher can control.

“There are things that I can control in my classroom, like my preparedness, and there are things I cannot, like whether my students show up to school,” Calvillo said. “I think that just like most senators want what’s best for America, so do most teachers. And that makes it very hurtful when we feel like we’re being threatened or punished for not accomplishing a task that isn’t proven to be possible.”

Many secondary English teachers are not specially trained to teach reading.

“I’d love to be better trained to teach reading, and in fact, Bryant Schools is doing that this summer,” Calvillo said. “It’s true that most upper level teachers don’t know how to teach reading. Perhaps Senator Clark can help us there.”

The bill was initially sent to the Senate, read over, suspended, read again and is now sitting in the Education Committee.