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The Rise of Poverty and the Fall of Education

Literacy organization calls on Obama Administration, Congress to do more for underserved communities across the US

Washington, DC—December 5, 2011—As 2011 winds to a close poverty levels in the United States have hit a record high of 46 million. Poverty is the single best predictor of a child’s failure to achieve in school, and about half of children from low-income communities start first grade up to two years behind their peers. It is clear that more has to be done to ensure that the nation’s neediest children are given the opportunity to reach their full potential and end the cycle of poverty. The key to empowering the 15 million children living in poverty is education, making it all the more surprising that the federal government is cutting education programs from the budget—including essential programs like Reading is Fundamental. RIF, the nation’s largest childhood literacy organization, is urging the Obama Administration and Congress to restore funding for education programs.

“Reading is the most basic skill that we can provide to children, and gutting literacy programs now will have long term effects for the economy. Today, there is only 1 book for every 300 children living in poverty in the U.S.,” said Carol Rasco, President and CEO of Reading is Fundamental. “RIF urges Congress and the Obama Administration to establish a competitive grant for national literacy programs so that our next generation of leaders is prepared.”

According to the Census, the national poverty rate increased from 14.3 percent to 15.3 percent, or by roughly 4 million people. The states that had the largest increase in poverty numbers were Nevada, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Florida, California, Oregon, Utah, Alabama, Georgia and Idaho. More than 18 million adults do not read well enough to earn a living wage.

“We should be expanding our literacy programs, not struggling to keep them afloat,” said Rasco. “RIF’s public-private partnership is an example of how every dollar can be stretched, and I urge our elected leaders in Washington and business and community leaders across the country to fight with us so that even more children receive the literacy support they need.”

Research shows that quality education ends the cycle of poverty. Children of poor families are six times more likely to drop out of school then children in wealthy families. In coordination with that, minority children from urban areas are less likely to graduate than their white suburban counterparts. Many students who receive books from RIF would not have access to books in their home otherwise. Sixty-one percent of low income families have zero books in their households. Moreover, research has also shown that owning a book of their choice improves student outcomes.

The cost of illiteracy for businesses and taxpayers is estimated at $20 billion. RIF costs taxpayers only $0.08 per year to provide literacy resources to millions of children. Necessary and affordable education programs cannot continually be stripped of their funds as poverty continues to increase. RIF is a prime example of an effective and efficient public-private partnership that creates a return on federal investment, operating a program valued at $150 million in all fifty states and territories for only $25 million in federal support. In 2010, RIF distributed 15 million books to 4 million children nationwide. More than 400,000 volunteers from Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs and other partners in every state contribute 25 percent of the organization’s funding. Without federal support, a large national program, one that has distributed almost 400 million books since 1966, will begin to break down.

About Reading Is Fundamental, Inc. (RIF),
Reading Is Fundamental, Inc. (RIF), founded in 1966, motivates children to read by working with them, their parents, and community members to make reading a fun and beneficial part of everyday life. RIF’s highest priority is reaching underserved children from birth to age 8. Through community volunteers in every state and U.S. territory, RIF provided 4 million children with 15 million new, free books and literacy resources last year. For more information and to access reading resources, visit RIF’s website at www.rif.org.

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The Rise of Poverty and the Fall of Education