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Heinrich Introduces Legislation to Level the Playing Field for New Mexico’s Children, Improve Student Literacy

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M) today introduced the Literacy Improvement for Transformation (LIFT) Act, legislation that aims to improve literacy outcomes for all students by ensuring that every K-12 public school has at least one full-time reading or literacy specialist on staff.  

More than 8 million low-income K-5 students in America are not proficient in reading. According to data provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, children who struggle to read proficiently by fourth grade are four times more likely not to graduate from high school than their peers with grade-level reading skills.

“Every child in New Mexico and across the country deserves an equal shot at success. That begins by making sure every student is able to read and write at their grade level or higher,” said Heinrich. “By ensuring every school is staffed with at least one full-time reading or literacy specialist, my Literacy Improvement for Transformation Act will level the playing field to ensure every student has the opportunity to thrive.” 

“As part of the bilingual community, I know firsthand how important it is to cultivate biliteracy in schools. Every student in our public schools should see themselves in the instructional materials we use in our classrooms. A child’s primary language, culture, and identity should be a source of pride and a foundation from which to build their understanding of the world. Biliteracy specialists are uniquely positioned to support the nearly 850,000 English Learners with disabilities,” said Dr. Jacqueline Rodriguez, Chief Executive Officer for the National Center for Learning Disabilities. “We commend Senator Heinrich for introducing the LIFT Act, guaranteeing every school has a literacy or biliteracy specialist in the building who ensures the success of all students, and especially English learners with disabilities.”  

“By supporting access to qualified literacy and biliteracy coaches, this Act values the years of dual language and bilingual research that continue to demonstrate how we can best support our multilingual learners to achieve success in reading. When we value the cultural and linguistic assets that students bring to the classroom, we also value the fact that literacy instruction for bilingual students cannot be viewed solely through a monolingual lens. In truly meeting the needs of New Mexico’s diverse population, we must never forget practices that will honor the sovereignty of Indigenous languages and the communities that speak them,” said Michael Rodríguez, Executive Director for the Dual Language Education of New Mexico (DLeNM).

Students in underserved communities or those with learning disabilities often face additional challenges when it comes to reading. By hiring more reading and literacy specialists, school districts can help bridge the literacy gap and provide targeted support to students who may be at a higher risk of falling behind their peers.

The LIFT Act will empower local entities with the resources to address literacy outcomes and gaps and play a larger role in narrowing the educational achievement gap by improving literacy education.The bill establishes a LIFT Grant Program that will provide entities – including Local and State educational agencies, non-profit partners, and Bureau of Indian Education schools – with federal support to hire full-time reading or literacy specialists.  

Specifically, the LIFT Act:

  • Prioritizes entities working with high-need student populations, including economically disadvantaged students, English Language Learners, and underrepresented students. 

  • Elevates biliteracy approaches to learning and protects oral-based indigenous languages.

  • Ensures that reading or literacy specialists hired as a result of its funding stream spend at least 80 percent of their time working directly with students and teachers.

  • Supports the ongoing development of reading specialists, including funding for evidence-based reading or literacy specialist certifications.

  • Enables entities to use federal funds to retain and/or hire a full-time reading or literacy specialist.

The legislation is endorsed by the The Arc, National Center for Learning Disabilities, the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, and The May Center.

A one-page summary of the bill is here.

The text of the bill is here