Reading Corps program loses federal funding

Published on Wed, Jul 10, 2013 by Brandy Kiger Shreve

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Corrected 7/11/13

The Blaine Boys & Girls Club will have to look elsewhere for literacy support this coming school year after state federal funding cuts have left the Northwest Washington Reading Corps (NWWRC) program without the grant monies needed to continue its work.

NWWRC is an AmeriCorps program that works to improve the reading abilities of K–6 students by tutoring struggling readers and creating effective collaborations among schools, families, community members, national service, business and state partners. 

Traditionally, volunteers from the corps work in school systems, particularly those with Title I status, but in the past few years, they’ve broadened their reach and have branched out into such community organizations as the Boys & Girls Clubs. 

The program’s closure will affect more than 260 NWWRC volunteers who work with schools and organizations across the state. 

“No one knew it was going to be cut,” said Reading Corps volunteer Sara Rosso, who has been working with Blaine Boys & Girls Club since October 2012. “All we knew was that there was a delay in the processing and reviewing for the grant application.”

An emergency teleconference with NWWRC coordinators on June 20 affirmed that the program had lost its funding, and would effectively close on August 31. “It’s really a bummer,” Rosso said. “It’s a program that’s really amazing and beneficial to everyone. This is something that affects the entire community. It’s really sad.”

Terri Jack, program coordinator for NWWRC the Washington Reading Corps said the closure was simply a case of the state federal government not having enough money to go around. “We applied for a competitive grant, and we were denied,” Jack said. “We had 141 schools or community-based organizations that applied to have our members work with them this coming year, but the best we can do is run a bare bones operation with the limited funding we still have in our pots. At this point, our hope is very limited.”

Jack said organizations competing for grants requested $341 million in funds, but there was only $200 million available for distribution. “We have to provide stipends to our volunteers, or else we technically wouldn’t be an AmeriCorps program,” she said.

At best, Jack said they might be able to field 50 volunteers if they can receive funding from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) this fall, but where those volunteers will go is still to be determined. “We have to go back and look at our application guidelines and see who fits them best,” Jack said. “We want it to be as fair and equitable as we can make it, but we won’t know until mid-July what we’re working with.”

Though the framework has been laid for the club to continue its literacy work through the activities and programs Rosso has developed during her service, Boys & Girls Club director Diana Oplinger said the loss of the full-time volunteer position, which is shared with the Blaine school system, could be challenging. 

“It’s really unfortunate,” she said. “We were really thrilled with the Reading Corps program and we wanted to see it continue. I can’t hire someone to do what Sara is doing for the amount we contributed to the program.

“We can build on what we’ve started with the Reading Corps, but it’s going to cost the club more money to have the same level of service.”

Jack said NWWRC will review their grant application to see why it wasn’t funded and then reapply for next year’s award. “We’re hoping to come back stronger than ever,” she said.