Literacy bill named for former Louisiana state representative is moved forward by House Education committee

A child reads a book in a library. (Getty Images)

About 160,000 Louisiana students struggling with reading or writing could get extra help if a bill by Rep. Steve McKnight (R-Baton Rouge) that funds tutoring, reading materials and summer programs becomes law. The Louisiana House Education Committee moved along HB 85 Thursday morning.

The bill would create the “Steve Carter Literacy Program,” named for the former Republican state representative and 2020 candidate for East Baton Rouge mayor-president who died of COVID-19 in January. It would allow the Department of Education to pay for extra tutoring, reading materials, after-school and summer programs, mentorship programs, etc. for kindergarten through 3th grade students “who reads below grade level or is at risk for reading difficulties” and 4th and 5th grade students “who scored below mastery in English language arts on the state assessment in the prior school year” or was “recommended by an English teacher.”

Speaking to the committee about his bill, McKnight said, “Louisiana students have struggled with literacy for decades. It’s time for literacy to become a priority in our state.” Struggling to read early in their education has a significant impact on those students’ ability to learn other subjects, he said.

Only 46 percent of Louisiana 3rd graders are on track to master English and only 43 percent are on track to master math, a disturbing statistic that Louisiana State Superintendent Cade Brumley attributed to 60 percent of the state’s kindergarteners starting school already behind the curve, he said in a virtual press conference in January.

“If we don’t… close this literacy gap in our state, we will continue to have educational problems throughout the grades, all the way up through higher education,” McKnight said.

The program would be funded up to $1,000 per student eligible for the program. The program gives highest priority to “the lowest performing economically disadvantaged students.”

If the education department doesn’t invest enough in students struggling to read and write early, “you’re going to continue to see that student year over year,” McKnight said.

The bill will now go to the House Committee on Appropriations. A fiscal note attached predicts it will cost the state $79.7 million per year plus $564,380 for staffing. However, that estimate was calculated when the bill was expected to cost $500 per student. The bill was later amended to raise the cost to $1,000 per student.