Cassidy: ‘Education Dept. must ensure funding improves literacy rates’

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) is concerned about the declining literacy rates among America’s school-age students and the threat it poses to their futures and the country’s long-term global competitiveness and national security.

In an April 8 letter he sent to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Sen. Cassidy requested information about how federal funds are being used to improve child literacy and if they are being used effectively.

Specifically, the senator seeks details about how the U.S. Department of Education is administering Comprehensive Literacy State Development (CLSD) grants, which states use to advance literacy skills through the use of evidence-based practices, activities, and interventions, according to his letter.

Once the Education Department awards a CLSD grant, a state distributes program funds to subgrantees, including local school districts, to fund programs and initiatives.

“These federal grants must play an important role in addressing the decline in literacy rates,” wrote Sen. Cassidy, ranking member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. “Therefore, it is critical that DeptEd ensure that CLSD funds are being allocated in ways that have the greatest positive impact on national reading proficiency levels.”

And he doesn’t think that’s currently happening.

For instance, a March 2023 report he released found that between late 2022 and early 2023, “at least 225 [school] districts [had] spent over $1.5 million on new books, trainings and curriculums linked to three-cueing,” an instructional method that teaches children to guess words they don’t know based first on pictures and sentence structure, the senator wrote.

He noted that multiple reports have concluded that the practice is ineffective in teaching reading and has even contributed to the declining literacy rates among school-age children.  

“Funds appropriated by Congress to improve literacy must not be used on frameworks that are contributing to the very problem we, as a nation, are trying to solve — poor reading scores,” wrote Sen. Cassidy.

To determine whether the Education Department is conducting appropriate vetting and oversight to ensure that CLSD funds are being spent effectively, Sen. Cassidy requested that Cardona answer several questions, including how the Education Department verifies that CLSD subgrantees are spending funds effectively and in accordance with evidence-based requirements and priorities, and what process the department follows when awarding supplemental CLSD awards, among others.