For students just beginning elementary school, starting off on the wrong foot can have big consequences. Unfortunately, many Missouri students very quickly fall behind on basic but critical skills such as reading. In 2017, 38 percent of third-grade students scored at basic or below-basic proficiency in English Language Arts on the state’s standardized test, the Missouri Academic Performance (MAP) exam.
Pre-filed legislation in the Missouri Senate would mandate that public schools create an intervention plan for students in kindergarten through fourth grade not reading at grade level. The bill would have districts formulate programs for these interventions. While this could be a step in the right direction, there are better ways to address the problem.
One option would be implementing Reading Scholarship Accounts (RSAs). In 2018, Florida started offering RSAs, a type of Education Savings Account (ESA). Florida’s RSA program awards scholarships of $500 to students in grades 3 through 5 who are not reading at grade level, according to the student’s state standardized test results. Students can put their scholarship toward curriculum, instructional materials, fees for reading and literacy programs, or part-time tutoring services. While families can choose from a list of different types of providers and services, teachers can also choose to tutor students. Teachers thus can earn extra income as students receive reading support. Florida’s model supports students’ academic needs, and Missouri could benefit from a similar approach.
RSAs are yet another example of how ESAs can help support the specialized needs of specific groups of students. If Missouri were to implement a similar policy and provide ESAs for its students reading below grade level, students and their parents could choose the type of academic support that works best for them, helping them stay on the right trajectory.