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House panel discusses ongoing funding to expand reading program for kids

Child development researchers will sometimes reference “the million word gap.” They’ve found that young kids whose parents read them five books per day have heard over a million more words by the time they enter kindergarten than children who were never read to.

That difference can have a profound impact on school readiness as reading has been shown to help young minds develop as they prepare to begin their formal education.

The Reach Out and Read Minnesota program works to ensure young families understand the importance of literacy and have the resources they need to read to their children.

Sponsored by Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn (DFL-Eden Prairie), HF570 would add $250,000 annually to the Education Department’s base appropriation to fund the program on an ongoing basis.

The House Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee laid the bill over Thursday for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill.

Kotyza-Witthuhn said the organization partners with health care providers to give books and guidance on early development to families of children who are six months to 5 years old during their regular doctor’s visits. The program is currently in more than 300 clinics around the state and has served 175,000 children and families, distributing 313,000 books annually.

“I enthusiastically support this program both as a legislator and a parent,” Kotyza-Witthuhn said. “My children’s eyes light up every time we visit our family doctor, and she has written little notes inside the cover to them.”

Funding from the bill would be used to implement a statewide plan by 2030 that would:

  • integrate children’s books and parent education into well-child doctor’s visits;
  • create a literacy-rich environment in health clinics;
  • work with different types of clinics and health centers including in underserved areas; and
  • train health care professionals to speak with parents of young kids about the importance of literacy.

Kristen Hoplin, executive director of Reach Out and Read Minnesota, said the money would help the organization continue to expand throughout the state with the goal of reaching every clinic by the end of the decade.

“I know our program is effective and with the state’s continued support we can continue making smart, cost-effective investments in Minnesota’s youngest families that will resonate for years to come,” Hoplin said.

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