Washington schools using stimulus funds for Dolly Parton’s free books program


At a Thursday afternoon news conference from Olympia, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal shared his office’s plans for expanding the state’s Imagination Library, eliminating out-of-pocket school supply costs for families, and enhancing the Transitional Kindergarten program.

Reykdal touted Washington’s participation in singer and actress Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program that gifts books free of charge to children from birth to age 5, both in America and abroad.
He noted that up to a quarter of students entering kindergarten in Washington need extra help in terms of literacy and that the Imagination Library program addresses that challenge.
“It is truly embracing this idea that parents and guardians and grandparents and family are the first and most powerful teachers of their children,” Reykdal said.
Imagination Library leads to better kindergarten readiness, improved K-12 performance, and increased graduation rates, according to the superintendent.
Some 39,000 students are already receiving books, Reykdal explained, for $2.10 a book, with the costs split evenly between money raised locally and a matching amount from the state courtesy of federal emergency COVID-19 relief funds.
The budget ask of the Legislature for the 2023-25 biennium is $2.5 million a year, or $5 million in total, for the Imagination Library.
“The Legislature has passed this as an official statewide program,” Reykdal said. “Our hope is that the Legislature will take this request of ours and turn it into a resource that is made permanent, so that we can promise every newborn in the state of Washington for the duration of our history will get books sent to them personally every month until they are age 5 and ready for kindergarten.”

Reykdal doesn’t want parents, guardians and others to have to scramble to pay for pens, pencils, notebooks and the like for their students. He wants the state to cover the cost of school supplies.
“One thing that continues to persist is the idea that in many communities across the state, we ask families – before their child even comes to school – to provide basic supplies that should be basic education,” he said.
Reykdal went on to say, “Our notion here is to remove all the costs to those traditional consumer school supplies that in some places are asked of families to bring themselves.”
His office’s request of the Legislature – $30 million a year, or $60 million in total – would let school districts use maintenance, supplies, and operating costs (MSOC) money to purchase school supplies in bulk on a permanent basis.
“Truly, shifting the cost from families to the state as a form of basic education,” Reykdal said.

Finally, Reykdal spoke about the Transitional Kindergarten program in Washington for children under age 5 who do not have access to high-quality early learning experiences prior to kindergarten and are deemed to be in need of additional preparation to be successful in kindergarten.
Reykdal called it a “jump start” to kindergarten, noting the program emerged in the state about five years ago and currently includes 3,100 students in 93 school districts.

He didn’t provide any concrete figures on how much it would cost to get more kids in the program.
“Our next step is to ask the Legislature to invest a little bit more in this thing,” Reykdal said. “It is provided for with basic ed, but we certainly want them to have a policy framework consistent with what we’re doing.”


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