Commission Debates Hamilton County Funding Of Literacy Program

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Published June 17, 2021 

The Tennessee Conservative Staff –

Hamilton County, TN – In the Hamilton County Commission meeting on June 16th, the Commission voted on adopting a budget for Fiscal Year 2021-2022 of over $833 Million Dollars, which included a portion allocated to the “ Read 20” Literacy Program in the amount of $333,666. 

A debate arose between the Commissioners about the effectiveness of the program and around the fact that there are two State-sponsored programs that offer the same services at no additional cost to the County. 

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District 8 Commissioner Tim Boyd stated, “ Read 20 has been around a long time, it’s a good program.  It was a model program for the State’s program that teamed up with Imagination Library, originally totally sponsored by Dolly Parton.  Just last week the Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation had a program at East Brainerd Elementary which hands out books and it’s focused on early literacy much like Read 20. Why do we need to continue Read 20 when we have two programs within the state that are very welcome to come to Hamilton County and offer identical programs at virtually no cost to the County? ” 

Mayor Coppinger, “Our former Governor, Bill Haslam, actually adopted our Read 20 Program.  His wife, the first lady, adopted the program statewide because of the effectiveness we’ve had here in Hamilton County.” 

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Coppinger explained that the difference between Read 20 and the State programs is, “they get up each and every day focused on this and they’re handing out…well over a million books here in Hamilton County to our Elementary school age children…What Read 20 does in this County is make books available.  They visit our schools almost daily…I think it’s been a productive program that I hope the Commission can see fit to continue funding.” 

Boyd said, “It’s hard for me to look at redundant programs…It’s hard for me to see why we need to continue doing that.  If there is a likelihood that we could reallocate this $300,000 to do different things for the community, I would think there’s a greater impact to use this money elsewhere…I’d make a motion that we not fund Read 20 in the 2021-2022 budget.” 

District 4 Commissioner Warren Mackey seconded Boyd’s motion for a budget amendment to delete funding for the Read 20 Program. 

Coppinger said, “I don’t think there is a more effective use of public dollars than to help with illiteracy here in Hamilton County…This program is designed specifically to address those individuals that are struggling…I would ask the Commission to approve (the funding).” 

District 3 Commissioner Greg Martin said, “I have seen the benefit of this program in my community.  There have been numerous times at Middle Valley Elementary…where they had 100% participation of parents sitting down with their children every night and reading for 20 minutes…One of the things this program did is it encouraged 100% of parents in that community, with children in that school, to read.  We can talk about a lot of things when it comes to literacy, but nothing replaces a Mom and a Dad with a little kid on their lap, reading to them.” 

Boyd replied, “The original focus of Read 20 was to improve literacy rates in the financially and socially disadvantaged elementary schools in the core urban areas, not the suburban, more affluent areas.  Statistically, if you look at the numbers, Read 20 has not had a significant impact in those schools…We’re still in the low 30 percentile when you look at literacy rates of 3rd graders in our inner-city schools.  Read 20 has the mission statement of a good program but it’s not as effective as originally intended.” 

Boyd followed by saying, “How much money does the County Budget have (County General Funds) used toward our homeless program? …toward our domestic violence program? …toward our family justice center? Zero. Nothing.” 

District 1 Commissioner Randy Fairbanks asked Hamilton County Superintendent Bryan Johnson if the Read 20 program contributes to increased literacy, when taking the two similar state programs are taken into account. 

Johnson replied, “The simple answer is yes… 83% of a child’s K-12 life is spent out of school.  We get an opportunity to impact 17% of what happens in the K-12 life.  We are very supportive of all programs that impact that 83%.” 

Newly appointed District 9 Commissioner Steve Highlander said, “We need to do everything we can to get those children reading.” 

District 6 Commissioner David Sharpe stated, “I’m not interested in defunding any programs that have to do with the safety and literacy of students in Hamilton County.” 

Upon voting whether to delete the program from the budget, Boyd and Mackey voted in favor while Fairbanks, Highlander, Martin, Sharpe, Smedley and Baker voted to keep the program in the budget. 

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