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Feds Threatening to Yank RIF Funding

rif-logoThe nation’s oldest children’s literacy program is in dangerous thanks to proposed spending cuts at the federal level. Reading is Fundamental or RIF, receives eighty percent of its budget from the feds, and a new budget proposal would make all of that go away.

So why should you care?

Started in 1966, it’s a program that’s affected many of us and could affect a lot of our kids. Its chief mission is to get free books in the hands of low income kids – putting paperbacks into the estimated sixty-one percent of low-income homes that don’t have any books for their kids and the others that traditionally have just one or two.

They’re also focused on building “literacy-rich” homes, pushing parents to read to their kids every night and supply their kids with tons of reading material (not just books but magazines and newspapers too).

But according a press release from the RIF director, “”Unless Congress reinstates $25 million in funding for this program, RIF will not be able to distribute 15 million books annually to the nation’s children at greatest risk for academic failure. RIF programs in schools, community centers, hospitals, military bases, and other locations serving children from low-income families, children with disabilities, homeless children, and children without adequate access to libraries. The Inexpensive Book Distribution program is authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (SEC.5451 Inexpensive Book Distribution Program for Reading Motivation) and is not funded through earmarks. It has been funded by Congress and six Administrations without interruption since 1975.”

The plea for help for RIF arrived in my inbox yesterday, and my personal thoughts  went straight back to third grade, when reading a certain number of books each month in my school earned you a special  “Book It” certificate, redeemable at Pizza Hut. I was one of the rare members of my class who always got a Book It slip – although my parents rarely were able to take me out to redeem it (living in a rural area, the closest Pizza Hut was quite a distance from our home).

My parents were also lucky – I was going to read whether I got the certificate or not. But I distinctly recall the competition buzzing in the classroom inspired by a reward for reading. It may have been a bribe, but it was one that got results. Kids read – and not just for school. And suddenly my voracious reading became less a mark of my class dorkiness but my prowess. It opened doors for some kids to read. For me it allowed me a chance to shine.

Book It was a different program. It isn’t run by RIF. But the memory of having something in place to encourage reading is still strong today. And, to be honest, living in a poor, rural school district, I got some of those RIF free books too.

RIF is still making reading cool for millions of kids. Want to keep it that way? Sign their plea to Congress to keep RIF’s funding in FY2011.

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