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United Way of Florida Gets $3 million For Reading Programs


The United Way of Florida has received a $3 million multi-year grant to fund reading programs in some of the state’s lowest performing elementary schools.

Governor Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott read to a group of pre-schoolers as an example of the United Way’s Reading Pal’s program. The program aims to get reading volunteers into public schools.

We will launch this, not in every school and not in the highest and best “A” schools. We’re launching this in all types of schools, including some of the most challenged schools in our state,” said United Way Florida President Tom Granger.

The intent of the ReadingPals program is to increase the number of students reading on grade level in the 3rd grade. And David Lawrence, President of the Children’s Movement of Florida, says whether a student can read by third grade is an indicator of how they’ll perform academically in the future.

“The fact of the matter is, you can tell the children who can’t read are more likely to be in prison, more likely not to own homes, more likely to be in jail and not own cars. So reading really is a fundamental skill.”  

The most recent results on Florida’s 3rd grade reading test showed 44-percent of students were below what the state considers to be on grade level. But that number can be misleading. The Florida Department of Education says this year’s low reading results are due to students taking a harder test.

“That’s correct. It basically means that they aren’t reading at a level 3,4 and 5, which is, on the FCAT 2.0 that’s the proficient level,” said FDOE spokeswoman Jamie Mongovie.

Back in 2010 more than 70 percent of students were reading at or above grade level. The three-million dollar grant for the ReadingPals program comes from Carol and Barney Barnett. She’s the president of Publix Super Markets Charities, and he is Publix’s Vice President.  The money will go to 10 local United Way Programs and be distributed to groups such as early learning coalitions.

These 10 United Ways of Florida have received ReadingPals grants:

  • United Way of the Big Bend Region
  • United Way of Broward County
  • United Way of Central Florida
  • United Way of Manatee County
  • United Way of Marion County
  • United Way of Miami-Dade
  • United Way of Northeast Florida
  • United Way of North Central Florida
  • United Way of Suncoast
  • United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties
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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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