Districts receive their share of literacy money

The state has divvied up its $11.25 million earmarked to boost elementary reading skills.

And once again, the payments illustrate the scope of Idaho’s literacy challenge.

This fall, Idaho school districts and charter schools will receive money in hopes of helping nearly 37,000 kindergarten through third-grade students catch up in reading.

That 37,000 figure isn’t new; it came up frequently during the 2016 legislative session, before lawmakers voted to put an additional $9.1 million into literacy programs. And it’s based on a three-year average: the number of students who scored below grade level on the Idaho Reading Indicator, a statewide reading assessment.

The bottom line: Districts will receive $304.85 for every at-risk reader. Now it will be up to them to decide how to spend the money, and in essence, they can pilot any number of ideas. For example, some schools plan to use their money to pay for after-school or summer programs, while others are hoping to get results by ramping up teacher training, or purchasing classroom computers or learning devices.

The payment information, provided to Idaho Education News by the State Department of Education, reveals two things. It reveals how much literacy money will go to each district or charter — and it reveals the number of at-risk readers in a district or charter.

Here’s a look at Idaho’s 10 largest school districts (click here to download the breakdown for every district and charter school):

District At-risk readers 2016-17 payment
West Ada 2,976 $907,217
Boise 2,725 $830,703
Nampa 2,198 $670,049
Pocatello-Chubbuck 1,558 $474,949
Idaho Falls 1,520 $463,364
Bonneville 1,502 $457,877
Caldwell 1,305 $397,823
Twin Falls 1,260 $384,105
Vallivue 1,054 $321,307
Coeur d’Alene 1,054 $321,307

To some extent, the payments track closely with overall enrollment trends. The state’s four largest districts — West Ada, Boise, Nampa and Pocatello-Chubbuck — will receive the state’s four largest literacy payments.

But since the payments are based on at-risk students — and not on total enrollment — there are some exceptions.

Caldwell, for example, will receive more literacy money than the larger Twin Falls, Vallivue and Coeur d’Alene districts. However, Caldwell’s relatively high number of at-risk readers is not a surprise, considering district demographics. Caldwell has one of the highest student poverty rates in the state, and its percentage of limited English proficiency students exceeds Twin Falls, Vallivue and Coeur d’Alene.

From here, with cash in hand, it is now up to school districts and charters to figure out how to put their money to work — and how best to define success.

Schools are required to provide 30 to 60 hours of extra help to students, depending on their IRI scores. From there, however, literacy plans can vary widely.

So too can goals, as districts outlined in their literacy plans.

The Caldwell district, for example, has articulated ambitious goals for 2016-17. The district wants 80 percent of second-graders reading at grade level this spring, up from 47 percent in 2015-16; for third-graders, Caldwell wants an improvement from 52 percent proficiency to 85 percent.

Other districts have modest goals. In 2015-16, 82 percent of Boise kindergartners read at grade level — and the district is shooting for 83 percent proficiency in 2016-17. Other plans set no concrete achievement goals.

More reading: Take a closer look at districts’ varying literacy plans — and their varying goals.

Coming later this fall: Idaho Education News and Idaho Public Television’s “Idaho Reports” will team up on a closer look at the literacy initiative.