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Policy Post: The LEARN Act or Senate Bill S. 929

May 12, 2011

With cuts to education in federal, state, and local budgets it comes at a shock to see a senate bill to establish a comprehensive literacy program. This week though, Senator Patty Murray introduced the LEARN Act. If passed by the Senate and House and signed by the President, it would appropriate $2.35 billion annually from 2012-2016. At the federal level, this would almost double what’s been spent on literacy programs since 2001.

The LEARN Act, as currently proposed, would distribute the funds to states based on poverty levels. The state governments would then administer the funds as they see fit through competitive grants to local school districts and a state administered literacy program.

What differentiates LEARN from other federal programs under No Child Left Behind, is that older students are a focus. 40% of the funding is focused on grades 6th through 12th. In her video address Senator Murray outlines several problems she sees with older students. “Only 31% of America’s 8th grade students and roughly the same percentage of 12th graders meet standards for reading proficiency for their grade level.”

Critics have already showed concern that this will only push standardized tests, a typical gripe with any federal program. Keep in mind, this bill consolidates some No Child programs that were somewhat unpopular. In Senator Murray’s defense, much of this funding looks like it will go to existing state programs whose coffers have been recently drained if not shuttered completely.

To save you the trouble of playing a School House Rock video, this bill has been sent over to be reviewed by the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Several members of this committee have already co-sponsored it but the brief points we outlined will certainly be debated and discussed. From here the bill can either collect dust in committee, have several months of hearings and be killed by the committee, or get passed and brought to the floor of the Senate for an actual vote. It still has a long way to go, but it certainly created a splash in and outside the beltway.

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