Federal cuts hurt reading program that gives books to kids

jwarren@herald-leader.comAugust 8, 2011 

The PTA at Lexington's Liberty Elementary School plans to pony up roughly $4,000 this school year to keep Liberty's Reading Is Fundamental program in operation despite federal funding cutbacks.

Across Kentucky, however, many other RIF programs aren't as lucky, facing uncertain times as federal dollars run out with no future funding sources immediately in sight.

RIF says it distributed 15 million books to almost 4 million children nationwide last year, including more than 290,000 volumes given to more than 80,000 kids in Kentucky.

Liberty's RIF program is typical. It provides three free reading books annually to each of Liberty's 800 students. Children get to pick the books they like and take them home to keep. For many, it's their first chance to have books they can call their own, program officials said.

"I can't tell you how exciting it is when the kids come in and pick out their own books and get to write their names in them," Liberty PTA president Lori Sprague said. "We felt like it was important to keep the program going, because it really encourages kids' interest in reading."

The Liberty PTA hopes to continue funding the program in coming years, if necessary, so that more children can receive books, Sprague said.

The YMCA of Central Kentucky also is feeling the pinch as it tries to maintain its RIF effort, which apparently won't get federal funding after this year. The program has served about 1,100 children in Fayette County, plus some in Jessamine and Scott counties, according Wendi Keene, the Y's executive director for community services.

"We're going to struggle," Keene said. "It will mean fewer kids that we'll be able to serve, fewer books we'll be able to give out."

Others under the gun include several RIF projects operated through the Leslie-Knott-Letcher-Perry Community Action Council's Head Start program in Southeastern Kentucky. The program has RIF funding to supply books to more than 700 children this year, but the money will run out after that unless new sources are found, Head Start assistant director Renee Sexton said.

One of the affected programs operates the Perkins Head Start Center in Hindman.

"It's very sad to think that it all might be taken away," said Regan Conley, the director in Hindman. "We have families that, until they come into one of our centers, have never been in a library and have no idea how to use a library. RIF allows us to provide not only the children, but their families, with reading experiences."

Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3255.

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