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Hillsborough County Florida Says No to Federal Control of Reading

TAMPA -- Some Hillsborough County education advocates are questioning a decision by local school officials to not apply for part of a $45.6 million federal grant for reading programs.

The school district has not asked for a share despite an educational funding crunch.

"Why let that money go to waste when our children can benefit so?" the Rev. Willard Lee, pastor of Tampa's New Smyrna Full Gospel
Baptist Church, said. He also is president of the Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality.

Joyce Haines, the county's general director for elementary education, said the federal grant program has a lot of unknowns.

Haines said the state Education Department told Hillsborough officials "no" when they asked whether their reading program would qualify for the federal money. Educators "have to consider and weigh the strings attached" to the money before changing the program.

Hillsborough's program, adopted in 1996, would be expensive to replace. The program, which the district considers excellent, includes spelling, writing, literature and "a very strong phonics program in the early grades," Haines said.

Lee said Hillsborough -- the nation's 11th-largest school district -- appears unwilling to accept educational strategies that put heavier
emphasis on phonics and strict testing, sometimes called a back-to-basics approach.

Haines said the district plans to apply for funds in April, but said the district insists it must "mesh with what we currently use."

Qualifying districts will get percentages of their initial awards for three years, followed by three more years of awards if they can show
the money is helping, Christy Hovanetz, policy analyst at the Florida Education Department, said.

Some of the first cash grants will go to Polk County schools, awarded the highest amount statewide at $4.2 million, and Pinellas County
schools, which will receive more than $3.5 million.

— from the wire
Schools bypass grant for reading
Orlando Sentinel
Feb. 17, 2003


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