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When Did Providing Books to Poor Children Become a Waste of Federal Resources?

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Yesterday, The U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved The Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act (H.R. 1891), which was originally introduced by Congressman Duncan Hunter (CA-52), permanently eliminates 43 K-12 education programs including Reading Is Fundamental (RIF). Chairman Hunter describes all of these programs as "wasteful" and "ineffective".

Is Chairman Hunter really saying that RIF, a 44-year-old, research-based program that puts 15 million books into the hands of over 4 million of the nation's most vulnerable children each year is a waste of taxpayer dollars? The grand irony is that RIF actually embodies the very principles of limited government, local control, and public-private partnership that Chairman Hunter and others in the House of Representatives espouse. For example,

* Federal support for RIF generates a substantial financial return on federal investment. In the Chairman's home state alone in FY2010, RIF programs raised $681,050 in new, local money to match the $2,631,965 in federal funding spent in California.

* RIF is administered locally by only those programs that choose to participate, without the direct entanglement of government bureaucracy. Nationally, the program involves more than 400,000 volunteers who serve students who are at the highest risk of academic failure. In California, the program serves 504,124 students who have few books in their homes.

* At roughly $25 million, RIF constitutes a small fraction of overall K-12 federal education spending. Yet at less than $8 per student, the program delivers results in motivating children to read and has a statistically significant positive impact on reading achievement.

* RIF targets many small, rural communities that historically have been overlooked and underserved by federal agencies and programs.

If all of these characteristics make RIF a "waste", perhaps Mr. Hunter really means that all investments in providing literacy services to low-income children are a waste? Is that what he means by "new priorities" in education spending? We hope not.