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Initiative gets free books to at-risk kids

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Kids in grades K-5 will get free books every month under a new initiative that aims at boosting kids’ literacy skills.

Created by HB 3 and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on June 29, the New Worlds Reading Initiative will deliver free books every month to students in grade K-5 who teachers have identified as reading below grade level. The books will be selected to cover a range of subjects, and will be distributed according to grade level. The project also includes materials for parents.

“A child’s inability to read has a major negative effect on the rest of his or her life,” DeSantis said during a  ceremonial signing of HB3 at Indian River State College on July 22. “The biggest difference we can make in setting Florida children up for success is making sure they know how to read.”

In all, the project represents the state’s $270 million investment in literacy including $200 million in non-recurring funding for fiscal year 2021-22 to be used to distribute the books. Other revenue includes $71 million in Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA ESSER II) funding to provide tutoring for students, Literacy Coach Boot Camps for tutors and others, and statewide progress monitoring for grades K-8 through the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE).

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After January 2022, the bill provides credits against specific taxes under the New Worlds Reading Initiative Tax Credit and revises how corporate income taxes are applied under that initiative.

The Lastinger Center at the University of Florida has been identified as the Scholarship Funding Organization approved to administer the New Worlds Reading Initiative. The Florida Department of Education will work with Center personnel to distribute books to students as well as to publish information about the program on the DOE website.

“This is a really big deal,” DeSantis said. “I think it will make a difference.”

The New Worlds Reading Initiative represents Florida’s first statewide book distribution program.

Under the legislation creating it, the program must begin by December 31.


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