Federal government awards $16 million to DC schools in order to combat illiteracy

Mary Harney

DC Public Schools have been awarded a 5 year $16 million grant to improve literacy among students. The grant is intended to help children who have disabilities, are learning English or are financially disadvantaged, according to a September 29 press release from the Mayor’s office. 

The DC School Report Card shows “only 37 percent of students are meeting or exceeding grade level standards for English language arts,” a spokesman at the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) said.

Under the plan to distribute the money, 95 percent of the funds will be given “to local organizations that directly serve children, from birth through grade 12, which includes DCPS schools, public charter schools, and community-based organizations,” the OSSE spokesman said. Specifically, 40 percent of funds will be given “to organizations serving students in grades 6-12.” Another 40 percent will be given to “those serving grades K-5,” and 15 percent will be given to “organizations serving children” from birth through age 5.

Wilson has the option to apply for a portion of the grant. In response to the grant, Wilson principal Kimberly Martin said that “based on these criteria, it makes sense that Wilson isn’t directly involved.”

The spokesman added that Mayor Bowser was motivated to apply for the grant because “this is a significant opportunity to strengthen pre-literacy foundations for young children, deepen literacy instruction K-12, and accelerate learning for those students furthest from opportunity.”

According to the mayor’s press release, the goal of the grant over the next five years is to bolster language and literacy among children up to age 5, get more children to read at grade level from third grade on up, and, through intervention, improve literacy outcomes for about 25,000 disadvantaged and traditionally underserved children.

However, if Wilson does choose to apply for a portion of the 40 percent of the grant money set aside for organizations serving grades 6-12, the school’s leadership would have to work together with “DCPS Central Office leadership to design a ‘local literacy plan’ to demonstrate what Wilson would do with the money to improve literacy for its students,” the OSSE spokesman said.

The grant was awarded at a time when illiteracy remains a serious problem in the United States, and in the District of Columbia, and as literacy is dropping among young students forced to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic. The Washington Post, citing District data, reported in October that literacy targets among kindergarteners and first- and second-graders had dropped since at-home learning began.

And The Post reported in 2016 that “according to data from the 2014 U.S. Census Bureau, 21 percent — or nearly 60,000 —  of working age adults in the city lack a high school diploma.” Illiteracy can have major ramifications such as, affecting one’s ability to obtain a job.