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Statewide literacy plan some say ‘doesn’t work’ costs Illinois taxpayers $3 million

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(The Center Square) – Concerns are being raised about a mandated literacy plan the Illinois State Board of Education is tasked to craft. House Bill 4902 is a measure that will ensure ISBE uses vendors who contract with the state.

Last year, the legislators passed the Literacy and Justice for All Act, which directed ISBE to create a statewide literacy plan by the end of January 2024. The plan includes a curriculum rubric for schools and professional development opportunities for teachers.

State Rep. Laura Faver Dias, D-Grayslake, called her measure the “next step.”

“Last year as a General Assembly, we put forward this directive to ISBE to create this statewide literacy plan. This is just making sure as it continues to be rolled out in phases, when ISBE brings in vendors to work with targeted and comprehensive school districts that they are following that plan we have invested so much in as a state,” said Faver Dias.

State Rep. Steven Reick, R-Woodstock, said he’s got a problem with state-mandated literacy plans when the ones the Illinois legislature have tried in the past haven’t worked.

“Sit a kid on your lap when he’s three-years old and teach him what sounds letters make,” said Reick. “A statewide literacy plan does nothing more than just impose additional mandates on schools to do something that has been done in the past in many different ways and all of a sudden we’re up against another literacy plan.”

The state board has requested $3 million for fiscal year 2025 to execute the literacy plan. Illinois’ recent 2023 Report Card shows that 65% of the state’s 1.86 million public school children can’t read at grade level.

Faver Dias said the plan isn’t mandated.

“It actually doesn’t put mandates on school districts. It puts the mandates on ISBE to create frameworks, guides and templates. I was just on a call the other night about the roll out and how we encourage districts and get superintendents to buy in to use these supports that ISBE has created. To be clear there are no mandates on districts. This is the state leading the way with evidence-based practices that research shows us are effective for the last 30-40 years,” said Faver Dias.

Total proposed funding amounts for the state board in 2025 are over $11 billion in state tax dollars plus an additional $6.5 billion from federal tax funds.

“I have been getting questions from people on my side of the aisle, ‘Why did you vote against this committee?’ I’m old enough to remember a whole lot of literacy plans that have been put forward. I feel like we’re spinning our wheels here, put a book in front of the kid and let him read,” said Reick.

The recommended fiscal year 2025 budget includes $8.63 billion for Evidence-Based Funding, a $350 million increase.

Faver Dias’ measure advances to the Senate after passing the House.