By Ed Bray, National Director, Government Relations & State Initiatives for Learning Ally
In state capitals across the United States, governors are proposing, and legislature are reviewing and revising, the spending plans that will determine what will, and will not, be in the new fiscal year education budget.
Competing priorities clash in the hearing rooms and hallways of state houses and town halls. This is the time when every advocate of students who struggle to learn and to read effectively -- a parent, a teacher, an administrator -- are busy raising awareness, raising support, and raising a ruckus if necessary to make sure all students can read well and have access to critical education materials. During this tumultuous season, it is vital that elected leaders and state budget planners who will make important choices on behalf of students who struggle to learn and to read effectively hear our voices.
Crucial decisions such as whether, and how much, state funding support will be available is at a crossroads to provide accessible audiobooks programs, such as Learning Ally’s Audiobook Solution. Most states have not made this a priority, instead relegating this to local education agencies, school districts, regional co-ops, or special education agencies. Yes, a handful of leading districts have made this a priority, and their students are benefiting, but there is still a large unmet need for support, and we are asking you to advocate for more funds to support and expand access to Learning Ally in U.S. schools.
Four States, Four Stories
Florida has made access to accessible educational materials (AEM), such as human-read audiobooks, a priority. The state funds a significant program that reaches tens of thousands of students across the state from the Florida Keys to the Panhandle. This program has seen remarkable growth since the department reassessed the requirements for students to be eligible, coming into closer alignment with the standards used across the U.S.
Florida students have benefited from this expansion, but the rapid growth is straining our organization’s ability to sustain the program. To continue to support the large set of enrolled schools and the teachers who report overwhelmingly positive results on students’ performance and achievement, we are asking the state legislature to provide sustainability funding for students today who struggle to read now and in the future.
The Illinois State Board of Education has repeatedly recognized the value of Learning Ally’s program funded through its “Blind / Dyslexic Person Reading Program.” This year the Board recommended funding to grow the program to support 825 schools. We are asking the Illinois Legislature to agree to this recommendation and fully fund the program for the 2019-2020 school year. Our request will mean that Illinois schools that have asked for this program and are currently on our waiting list can gain the access they need. With your support, thousands more students who struggle today will have the tools to succeed in the coming school semester.
Massachusetts went from one of the more successful programs to one that stalled because of the 2007-2009 recession. The state’s budget was hit hard and the program received dramatic cuts from which it has not recovered.
Today Massachusetts supports 2,660 individual seat accounts for students to access Learning Ally. In a state with more than 41,000 students served in special education for print disabilities and an estimated 150,000 more who struggle to read, this is barely a drop in the bucket. We are asking the Massachusetts Legislature to restore the funds to serve 400 schools.This will open up the opportunity to provide equitable access to thousands of students across the Commonwealth by dramatically increasing the reach of the program.
New Jersey had been a steady supporter of students who struggle with reading. The state is an innovator recognizing a multi-faceted approach that supports needy schools, assists schools in starting the program, and encourages local districts to value, integrate, and support an audiobook solution as an ongoing district program to meet the needs of the broadest set of schools.
As the home of the Decoding Dyslexia movement, New Jersey is among the first states to adopt education reforms designed to increase teacher preparedness and accurately identify struggling students early in their education. Despite this impressive record, the funding for AEM has been reduced. This has driven us to engage education leaders across the state to not only restore the lost funding, but recommit the state to its record of expanding funding support.
A Call to Action – Let Your Voices Be Heard
While the specific details of each state’s program and predicament vary, there is one thing every supporter of students who struggle to read can do – talk to your state representatives. Write (e-mail or snail-mail), call, or even schedule a meeting with a local state representative and senator.
State legislators want to know what their constituents care about and now is the time to let your voices be heard for students who struggle to read. This is a valid concern that can open dialogue between you and your representatives.
Every state has a simple way for you to find out who your legislators are by your home address. Use these easy, free tools to find office phone numbers and e-mails and send along your thoughts in support of students who struggle to read and to specifically request funding for Learning Ally’s Audiobook Solution.
One of the truest statements about being an advocate, attributed to Margaret Mead, is: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
Tens of thousands of students who struggle to read depend on your support. These students need as many thoughtful and committed supporters, like you, to take action. Raise your voices now and call on your state legislatures and governors to provide the funds that will transform the lives of struggling readers to successful and confident learners and achievers.
Learning Ally is a leading education solutions organization committed to transforming the lives of struggling learners. The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is a proven reading accommodation used in more than 17,000 schools nationwide to help students with reading deficits reach their academic potential.
Contact Ed Bray by email: ebray(at)learningally.org