Originally created 06/20/00

Educators fear loss of funding for program



ATLANTA - The reading coordinator for Columbus schools will have to cut back the number of weak readers receiving one-on-one lessons in first grade if the state enacts proposed changes in the funding rules. She will not be alone.

At a public hearing Monday, Annette Walters told members of the state Board of Education that a proposed change in the way funding is calculated for programs that provide tutoring for faltering elementary pupils is unfair to a popular reading program.

"We feel like we will be penalized for working with the hardest-to-teach students," Ms. Walters told the board.

Reading Recovery targets low-achieving first-graders through a daily 30-minute tutoring session with a teacher. Pupils read stories and write their own tales under direct supervision for up to 20 weeks. The program is used in 38 states throughout the nation.

The problem for Georgia school officials lies in the funding formula for these types of tutoring programs. Under the proposed rule, programs for poor-performing learners must serve a minimum of 66 students per full-time teacher. Reading Recovery teachers can handle a maximum of eight pupils a year using the program's personalized format. Combined with small reading groups that teachers also coach, the number of pupils being helped barely reaches 70 percent of the new requirement.

To Annette Walters and a dozen other reading teachers on hand for Monday's public hearing, that means poor readers won't get the help they need to prevent them from eventually dropping out of school in frustration. Reading Recovery was designed to intervene in that familiar path from weak first-graders to high school dropouts.

"Right now we have more flexibility with money for early intervention programs," said Ms. Walters. "We don't feel like the new rule really reflects what the school reform laws intended."

If the new rule is enacted, school administrators would be forced to find creative ways to get pupils in Reading Recovery, such as offering the class after the normal school day or early in the morning. Teachers say they fear many pupils wouldn't be able to attend because of transportation and child care problems.

"I am perhaps the only intervention many of these students get," said Alice Wyatt, a Reading Recovery teacher in Atlanta. "It's important for us to be able to reach these students early. It's too late to start at third or fourth grade trying to teach the things they should have learned in kindergarten and first grade."

Educators also said Reading Recovery is one of the few programs that provides a yearlong training session for new teachers, and instructors constantly receive updates on new teaching strategies.

The state Board of Education will vote on the proposed rule at its full meeting June 22. A rule mandating new middle school program criteria, which includes dropping health and physical education course requirements, also will be up for a final board vote.

Reach Shannon Womble at (404) 589-8424.