Merkley, Wyden introduce bill to close summer learning gap

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today introduced the Summer Learning and Meals Act of 2018, new legislation to help close the summer learning gap by keeping school libraries open at schools that already serve free summer meals.

The legislation is based on a successful state-based pilot program, Oregon’s Summer Learning Partnership.

“When I was a child, my father took me to the doors of the schoolhouse and told me that if I worked hard, I could do just about anything, because we live in America” said Merkley. “That’s the promise of this country. All too often, however, that promise isn’t fulfilled for low-income and disadvantaged students who fall behind on learning during summer months. This legislation represents a simple, common-sense approach that will help close this pervasive summer learning gap.”

“As the son of a librarian, I was raised understanding the importance of providing learning opportunities throughout the year to all children, particularly those in underserved and low-income communities,” Wyden said. “This legislation will give kids in Oregon, and across the country, increased access to books and meals during the summer months. This will push back against the summer slide and improve their year-round academic skills, keeping them on their path toward high school graduation, and their career goals.”

While more affluent children often participate in extracurricular activities during the summer, too many low-income children lose access to learning opportunities when school is closed. According to one Johns Hopkins study, by ninth grade, accumulated summer reading losses accounted for two-thirds of the reading achievement gap between low-income children and middle-income children.

Despite the fact that summer has been identified as a major factor in the achievement gap in America’s schools, there is still no dedicated source of funding for summer learning.

Research has also shown that high quality summer learning programs can help students maintain or even increase their academic skills over the summer months, especially in reading. However, the majority of school libraries are closed during the summer.

In 2012, Oregon’s Summer Learning Partnership created a grant program to allow schools to keep their libraries open at existing summer meal sites to benefit the students most at-risk. Based on Oregon’s successful program, the Summer Learning and Meals Act of 2018 would create a new Federal grant program that provides grants to state libraries to allow schools with summer lunch programs to keep their libraries open for student use during the summer months.

Specifically, the new grant program established by the Summer Learning and Meals Act would:

  • Be run by the Department of Education;
  • Provide grants to state libraries to fund summer reading programs at schools that 1) have a summer lunch program and 2) where at least 50% of students read below grade level or are at risk of reading below grade levels;
  • Enable state library programs to award sub-grants based on the proposed number of school lunch sites and the number of students that will be served under the summer early reading program;
  • Require agencies receiving grants to submit yearly reports regarding the progress made in achieving the purposes of the grant or sub-grant to the Secretary;
  • Be authorized at $5 million in funding for each of the fiscal years 2019 through 2023.