Councilmember Charles Allen Introduces “Books From Birth” Bill

WASHINGTON, DC – At this morning’s DC Council Committee of the Whole meeting, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen introduced his “Books From Birth” bill to create a new early literacy initiative in partnership with DC Public Libraries.  The bill was co-introduced unanimously by Allen’s ten Council colleagues.

“Less than half of third graders in the District score proficient or advanced in reading skills.  It is critical that the District confront the literacy and achievement gap at its starting point, well before it shows up in the classroom.  Books are direct building blocks for learning, but children must be exposed to them to use them,” said Allen.

Allen’s literacy initiative, “Books From Birth,” will mail a book to each child in the District every month from birth through age five, while also working to connect families with the full range of library resources and educational information, including adult literacy assistance and DCPL’s Sing, Talk, & Read early literacy program. 

Early literacy advocates joined Allen on Friday at the Southwest Neighborhood Library to announce the bill’s planned introduction today.  “We know that programs focusing on early literacy can be powerful tools to improve student achievement later in life. Putting books directly into young children’s hands is an important step toward ensuring they begin school prepared to learn.  This legislation will help foster richer at-home literacy environments for all District children, and is an important way to help eliminate our persistent and widening achievement gap,” said HyeSook Chung, Executive Director of DC Action for Children.

With Books From Birth, DC would join a growing list of municipalities and programs nationally working to close the “word gap” by increasing young children’s access to books.  Robert Zarr, a pediatrician at Unity Health Care, spoke about the critical role early childhood literacy efforts play in school readiness.  An advocate for the Reach Out & Read book distribution program, Zarr said, “Families served by Reach Out & Read are up to four times more likely to read aloud with their children.  Increasing children’s access to books and talking with parents about the importance of reading are scientifically proven ways to close the ‘word gap’ and improve early literacy outcomes.”

Text of the bill is available here and a legislative summary is available here.

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