Reading Is Fundamental has launched a grassroots campaign and initiated talks with members of Congress and the Bush administration in an effort to restore funding for the 35-year-old program for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2002. Since 1975, RIF has received federal funding through the Inexpensive Book Distribution Program operated under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. ESEA reaauthorizations that have been approved by both the House and the Senate do not contain language to support the IBDP, nor does the administration's fiscal 2002 budget.
Dr. Bill Trueheart, president of RIF, told PW he believes the lack of funding was an oversight by Congress and the administration, which are both eager to pass President Bush's new education program. "We worked under the assumption that IBDP was part of the president's initiative," Trueheart said, adding that by the time RIF learned its funding had been excluded it was too late to talk to the organization's many congressional supporters. Trueheart stressed that he is very supportive of the administration's new educational programs, but firmly believes RIF's out-of-school efforts complement the classroom-based proposals of the Bush administration.
RIF became aware that it wasn't going to receive funding in mid-April, and since that time more than 7,000 letters from RIF supporters and children who have participated in the program have been sent to members of Congress. The organization has also begun talks with various congressional members, and Trueheart said he is hopeful an amendment will be forthcoming that will clarify the funding issue. The Association of American Publishers has also weighed in on the side of RIF. In a release issued late last month, the AAP said the association was surprised and dismayed that the line item for IBDP had been eliminated from President Bush's education budget. AAP president and CEO Pat Schroeder said, "It just makes no sense to pull the funding rug out from under them at a time when it's more important than ever to connect kids with books."
In the current budget year ending September 30, 2001, RIF received $20 million under IBDP and raised $14 million through its local branches and another $6 million at the national level to help cover costs associated with developing new projects. RIF will receive $23 million for the fiscal year that starts October 1, 2001. Trueheart said that about 80% of RIF's funds are used to buy new books for the nation's neediest children, focusing on children from birth to age 11. Trueheart expects that RIF will provide almost 15 million books and literary services to five million children this year, bringing the total number of books it has supplied to children since 1966 to approximately 200 million.