State Rep. Bill Sowerby, D-Clinton Township, is joining other legislators in a plan to attack illiteracy.

State Rep. Bill Sowerby, D-Clinton Township, is joining other legislators in a plan to attack illiteracy.

Photo provided by Michigan Democrats

Local legislators bringing literacy back to forefront

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published June 5, 2019

LANSING — The literacy crisis in Michigan has not improved, leading to a new push from state legislators to address statewide deficiencies.

On May 28, a coalition of legislators introduced the Better Outcomes in Literacy and Development, or B.O.L.D., plan as a means of attacking the root causes of illiteracy across the state, starting in early childhood.

A similar literacy package was introduced in October 2017. Some bills in this particular package mirror the past while others are completely new. Both in 2017 and currently, Michigan has ranked 41st nationally in reading.

This specific package of bills was introduced by state Reps. Bill Sowerby, D-Clinton Township; Darrin Camilleri, D-Brownstown Township; Robert Wittenberg, D-Huntington Woods; Kristy Pagan, D-Canton; Brenda Carter, D-Pontiac; Cara Clemente, D-Lincoln Park; Lori Stone, D-Warren; and Joe Tate, D-Detroit.

“If we’re not giving our kids a good foundation with strong literacy skills, we’re setting them up to fail not only in our education system but further down the line as well,” Camilleri stated in a press release. “Right now, our state is facing a literacy crisis, and for too long, we’ve been told to accept student underperformance in reading as the norm. I know we can do better, and our B.O.L.D. plan seeks to change the status quo and ensure we once again put our students’ well-being at the forefront of our legislative agenda.”

Some bills in the package would amend the Michigan Constitution to establish literacy as a right; increase the reimbursement rate in the Great Start to Quality Evaluation System to encourage program participation; expand the Great Start Readiness Program eligibility to 3-year-olds; expand eligibility for the Great Start Readiness program to include families with incomes up to 350 percent of the federal poverty line, whereas the current eligibility is 250 percent; and establish a Literacy Bill of Rights, among others.

Sowerby said the legislators are pushing B.O.L.D. again because the literacy rate has not improved.

He noted how in 2015, the previous legislature in the House introduced and passed full-grade reading requirements, which were signed by then-Gov. Rick Snyder.

“They did not provide any resources to get to that goal. Results have not improved for third graders, and therefore, that was a failed process,” Sowerby said.

In this current bill package, third grade reading requirements — which go into effect at the beginning of the next school year — would be eliminated.

“That is necessary because we know many third graders are not prepared and able to pass that test. We need to make sure that these children are not traumatized for being held back, at no fault of their own, and parents don’t experience horribleness at their child not being prepared,” Sowerby said. “We need to figure out a better way.”

He said overcrowded classrooms and a lack of preparation have coincided with the lack of “proper resources” that have been provided to educators, students and their guardians.

“You can put all kinds of requirements on reading skills, but if you aren’t providing the resources in classrooms, those children will not excel,” Sowerby said, adding that Michigan is dead last in reading in the entire Midwest.

In the bill, which would affect library resources, Sowerby said it includes providing early reading tools and resources for local libraries through an additional $1 million, approximately, in the state budget. It would go toward resources as well as librarians.

“The prior administration and the prior legislators did not make education and early literacy a requirement to move and advance our young children to get the skills they need,” Sowerby said, alluding to Michigan’s relevancy when it comes to advancing skills for a modern, more competitive workforce. “They are not (relevant) today because of the failures of the past.”

The next step is for hearings to take place, with the legislators hoping it will lead to legislation being deliberated and passed on the House floor.