Literacy group faces funding crisis

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

HOLLY SPRINGS – While distributing free books to 20 preschool students on the Rust College campus Friday morning, members of a national organization that promotes literacy also worried about their organization’s future.
Reading Is Fundamental has distributed books to 380 million low-income children since its inception in 1966. Recently, it has been caught in the middle of a national debate about federal spending.
The organization lost all of its $24 million in federal funding this year when it was left out of the current budget. That accounts for about 80 percent of RIF’s total funding.
Against that backdrop, the organization invited U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker to Friday’s event, in which the 2- to 5-year-old students in the Head Start Program at Rust College were each given four books.
“It is the premier literacy program in the country,” Wicker said of RIF, adding that he and his wife have personally donated money to the organization. “It has a proven record of results, and it is based on the notion that every child needs to own their own books and take them home.”
Wicker said he believed RIF would be eligible for funding by applying for federal grants. He said he was confident RIF would be in a strong position to receive such competitive grants because of its proven results.
However, the mechanism for such grants is not yet in place, said Ron Fairchild, government relations consultant for RIF. He is hoping that Wicker and other congressmen will authorize the U.S. Department of Education to offer them, perhaps in the 2012 budget.
The organization will be able to operate at full capacity until September, Fairchild said. It’s looking for sponsors to take up the slack after that.
It currently makes books available at a low cost to about 17,000 Head Starts, schools and nonprofits in the nation. There are 47 partners in Mississippi. In 2010, the organization distributed nearly 300,000 books to more than 85,000 children in the state.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@journalinc.com.