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Supporters push program's importance

ST. PAUL — Clad in red fleece jackets, Rochester volunteers with the Minnesota Reading Corps turned out Monday at the Capitol to show their support for a program that they say is critical for children struggling to read.

Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, is sponsoring a bill that supports the reading program staffed by AmeriCorps volunteers and makes sure those efforts are focused on getting tangible results.

"The meat of the bill is the sections that really require that the grant proposals are data driven, research based," Nelson said.

The Senate Education Committee agreed to consider Nelson's bill as part of a larger education bill.

Katie Schaefer, Minnesota Reading Corps internal coach in Rochester, said that the district has 20 AmeriCorps volunteers helping 700 students with their reading. She said the program is highly effective and that 76 percent of students who graduate from the program pass key state tests. Beyond that, she said, it helps improve students' self-confidence and enables them to make smarter choices in other areas of their lives.

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She said the program is geared toward "students whom, without this program, would fall through the cracks as no other support services are available to them due to budget costs."

The state spends $900,000 on the program and gets $3.15 million in federal money for the program. Nelson, a former teacher and reading specialist, said research has shown that if a child is not reading at grade level by third grade, it becomes much more difficult for them to catch up. She said that is why programs aimed at early intervention are critical.

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