President Bush’s proposed 2009 budget eliminates all the funding for Reading Is Fundamental’s book distribution program that has, since 1966, provided more than 325 million books to more than 30 million underprivileged children.
For a president who is so concerned about “Is our children learning?” and whose wife is promoted on the White House web site as a former librarian with “a special place in her heart for books,” there should be some insight into how key reading is to education. Even the White House paean to Laura Bush’s devotion to books and libraries says “a love of books … goes hand-in-hand with a love of learning.” PW notes another irony: Barbara Bush was on RIF’s Board of Directors from 1980 to 1988 and Laura Bush was on its National Advisory Council from 1996 to 2001.
One of RIF‘s programs is aimed at giving young kids the opportunity to choose and keep two to five books per year at no cost to them or their families. Many of the kids benefited by RIF are from families who may not have the means to buy books or where reading is not a key part of family life or the parents themselves have reading difficulties. All together, in its last fiscal year alone, RIF got 16.6 million books in the hands of 4.6 million children. Just it South Dakota, more than 43,000 books were distributed to nearly 12,000 children.
Some may say this is something that should be funded privately, not by the government. (Is that why John Thune is the only member of our Congressional delegation who didn’t sign on to a letter to the appropriations committees supporting RIF funding?) RIF has plenty of corporate and organizational sponsors and support but it isn’t enough. Our nation has long recognized that education is a principal function of government. This situation involves a very simple proposition. If you can read, you not only are better able to learn, you probably can learn almost anything. Certainly, helping young children read (and, hopefully, develop a love for it) enables a greater ability to learn and makes it a crucial part of providing an education.
If we can spend $341 million a day in Iraq, certainly we can justify investing $26 million a year to foster something crucial to success not only in school, but in life.
No skill is more crucial to the future of a child, or to a democratic and prosperous society, than literacy.
Reading By 9 Child Literacy Initiative