Riverside County students struggling to acquire basic literacy skills will receive increased access to reading materials under a program announced Tuesday by the California Department of Education.

The county Office of Education was selected to benefit from a $1 million literacy partnership grant for the 2019-20 academic year, according to the agency.

The Tulare County Office of Education was also selected to receive grant funds.

Money will be provided based on an agreement that the two counties actively engage in efforts to promote early childhood literacy, particularly among “under-served populations,” including English learners, Native Americans, homeless youth and foster youth, according to Kindra Britt of the California Department of Education.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said that, with over 50% of kindergarten through 12th grade students statewide failing to meet minimum literacy standards on the California Assessment of Student Performance & Progress in 2017, it’s essential to begin campaigns to encourage reading and writing.

“We need to fix our literacy rates in California, and we need to start early and empower a whole village of support in order to get our students to the level of literacy that they should be at,” Thurmond said.

“I am proud of my team for finding creative ways to increase resources provided to vulnerable student populations so that we may better serve them in their quest for proficient literacy.”

The partnerships with Riverside and Tulare counties will entail providing free books to students and furnishing teachers with resources that promote childhood literacy. In some cases, reading materials will be in the students’ “home language,” Britt said.

Thurmond said additional partnerships will be sought with both public and private entities statewide as the pro-literacy campaign expands.

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