As lawmakers retool school funding, business leaders push an investment in reading

Reading with Barbers a cut above for students

FWISD has kicked off a pilot program to help students read in nine barbershops in east and southeast Fort Worth.
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FWISD has kicked off a pilot program to help students read in nine barbershops in east and southeast Fort Worth.

Roger Staubach, Edward Bass and Matt Rose are among 44 well-known Texas business leaders who penned an open letter to lawmakers urging them to put millions of dollars into early childhood reading as they work to reform public school funding.

“Public school finance reform is the single most important priority to achieve in the upcoming legislative session,” the letter states. “Our funding per student has not kept pace with the evolving needs of our student population, which reflect more students with higher needs than a decade ago.”

The business leaders put the focus on reading, alluding to Texas’ low rankings in that subject. Texas ranked 46th in early reading achievement, according to the National Assessment of Academic Progress and 43rd in public education funding per student, the letter states.

“We cannot underfund our needs and expect to create a workforce that ensures the statewide prosperity to which we have grown accustomed,” the business leaders wrote.

The letter calls for Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and lawmakers to support the recommendations of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, including $780 million for third-grade reading and $400 million to reward districts that reach third-grade reading targets.

“Unless we achieve these goals, the quality of our workforce will be insufficient to support the robust growth we’ve come to expect,” the business leaders said.

That theme isn’t new in Fort Worth, where educators, business leaders and community organizations have been working together to help improve childhood literacy.

“The business community believes in the power of education and what a strong school system can mean for our future,” Rose, executive chairman for BNSF, told the Star-Telegram in a statement. “This a pivotal moment for us when it comes to our youth and why early childhood development matters.”

In 2016, Fort Worth schools Superintendent Kent Scribner sounded an alarm with a daunting statistic: only 30 percent of the school district’s third-graders were reading at grade level.

“That is unacceptable,” Scribner told the Star-Telegram. He called on the community to help the district work to improve the systems that educate children.

The school district unveiled a reading goal summed up in a motto, “FWTX 100X25 Ready to Read. Ready to Learn.” The goal is to have 100 percent of third-grade students reading on grade level or above by 2025.

At the time, Scribner, Rose and Mayor Betsy Price helped create a coalition, Read Fort Worth, which is focused on ending childhood illiteracy.

Since then, the three leaders have stressed the importance of children being able to read at grade level. School district leaders said they have made some gains in reading, but work remains. They have also established different programs focused on reading.

“A child reading on level by third grade is directly tied to whether a student graduates high school on time, goes on to college or enters the workforce,” Rose said in his statement. “If we channel our resources and efforts effectively and efficiently with committed partners, along with the state of Texas, we can do this together.”

Anel Mercado, executive director of Read Fort Worth, said support from the business community is vital in achieving school readiness and third-grade reading goals.

“Read Fort Worth stands alongside Fort Worth ISD in support of 100X25, meaning 100 percent of third-graders in Fort Worth are reading on level by 2025,” Mercado said in a statement. “We’ve made great strides in this collective journey by working alongside our dedicated partners. Only together will we ensure a brighter future for our school system and the leaders of tomorrow.”

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