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Schools Seek Books Program Funding After Budget Cuts

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The District's efforts to "modernize" every public school is part of a 10-year plan, costing $3 billion.
Courtney Collins
The District's efforts to "modernize" every public school is part of a 10-year plan, costing $3 billion.

For the past several years, each of the roughly 1,200 students at Carl Sandburg Middle School have chosen three new books to read and keep each year, thanks to Reading is Fundamental (RIF).

"We have a relatively significant population of students that are economically disadvantaged, and to get a book in their hands, is important," says Sandburg Assistant Principal Jane O'Hara.

It's hard to get students engaged when they don't have books to call their own, but she says RIF changed that.

"I had an eighth grade student come to me, very secretly, showed me the book that he picked, he was so excited," she says. "He said 'can you get that book and read it with me?' That speaks to the program."

The federal government has been contributing $20 million a year to 17,000 RIF programs across the country, but soon it will be up to local entities to keep things going. The 2011 budget eliminates funding for the program

"Before, we've been making sure that poor children got books in their homes, and now what we're going to have to do is ask people to help us do that," says Judy Cheatham, Vice President of Literacy Services for RIF.

News about the budget is devastating, she says.

"As a teacher, as a mother, as the grandchild of a poor woman who probably didn't go to the second grade, it breaks my heart," says Cheatham.

At Carl Sandburg, the government kicked in 75 percent of the program's budget, but O’Hara says the school will try to move on without it.

"Our PTA does support us very strongly, but to match that would be difficult," says O'Hara.

The money won't evaporate all at once. Carl Sandburg will have RIF during the next school year, but beyond that, the future of the program is unknown.

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