Very quietly, with very little fanfare, last week the Assembly Education Committee approved one of my bipartisan bills. The bill is simple, but has the opportunity to make a huge impact in the lives of kids. Assembly Bill 332 would pump over $1 million into the Milwaukee Summer Reading Project (MSRP) over the next two years.
The Milwaukee Summer Reading Project was started in 2010 by the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University. The program is administered by former Milwaukee Public School Superintendent Howard Fuller. As someone who was involved in the initial conversations about the creation of this program, it is near and dear to my heart.
When we held our first meeting of the Reading Policy Workgroup on December 4, 2010 in the middle of a snow storm, Mr. Fuller wrote, “Snow will not deter us from our goal to change the policy environment that has played a role in not giving our children the instruction and tools they need to be able to read!”
This program is critical in light of the fact that we have a significantly lower average graduation rate in Milwaukee than the state average. That disparity plagues us. The bill is about more than teaching kids to read. If you can’t read, you can’t learn. If you can’t learn, it is very difficult to succeed.
Given that 1.5 million Wisconsin adults are functionally illiterate and 84 percent of our Milwaukee kids read below grade level, we have a literacy crisis on our hands. It starts with illiteracy when children are young, but it ends in much larger problems for our society in the long run if we don’t address literacy at a young age.
I support literacy because I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Wisconsin has the highest African American incarceration rate in the nation while also having the lowest literacy rate in the nation amongst black fourth graders.
I believe it is our moral responsibility to make sure our kids can read. In the five years the MSRP has been operating, the program has reached over 900 kids, with 725 of them completing the program. Last year, 152 out of 187 kids completed the program. Eighty-one percent of those babies improved their reading comprehension by almost a full grade level. Let that sink in for a moment. Against the odds, these kids increased their reading comprehension by almost a full letter grade in just six weeks.
The project already has some great financial supporters, including Dwayne Wade and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. It is my hope that through this bill, the State of Wisconsin will soon join them to financially back this program as well.
Children grow up to become adults. It is up to us to decide what kind of adults we want them to be.