Ryan Wise

Ryan Wise

Leaders in the Iowa Department of Education are asking the governor and legislators for more money to improve the reading skills of students in the early grades.

Iowa Department of Education director Ryan Wise is asking for $9 million to help finance summer school programs focused on reading proficiency.

“Money that will flow through to school districts for materials, professional development, transportation, staffing and other costs associated with providing a high-quality, intensive summer literacy program,” Wise says.

Wise envisions using another $5.5 million to develop “high quality training materials” and hold regional training sessions for teachers as well as Area Education Agency staff.

“For reading, coaching and professional learning,” Wise says. “This essentially augments existing literacy coaching in AEAs and school districts.”

In addition, Wise says his agency hopes to get Iowa colleges and universities to “shore up” courses for future educators who’ll be teaching kids how to read.

“At the same time, we know teachers need support and on-going professional development in the classroom,” Wise says, “So Dave Tilly, our deputy director who oversees this, calls it kind of our ‘standard of care’ — so that we have consistent approaches across the state and high, effective approaches to early literacy.”

Wise outlined a series of budget requests during a public hearing in the governor’s office on Monday. The state has already been spending money on what Wise calls an “early warning” system.

“That ensures we catch reading challenges that students have before they become full-blown problems,” Wise says.

Another $8 million annual appropriation supports school districts “early literacy” programs. A national test this fall found fourth- and eighth-grade students in Iowa made no gains in the past two years in reading proficiency, but Iowa students, in general, are better readers than the average U.S. student.