$4 million to be made available to aid Catholic schools

The Parents Alliance for Catholic Education (PACE) announced Aug. 18 that it had procured $4 million in federal money, which will be available over the next six years, to assist Catholic schools in Massachusetts in ensuring that disadvantaged students are proficient readers by the end of the third grade.

The funds have been made available to the Catholic schools through the federal Reading First program, which was established under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and administered in the Commonwealth by the Massachusetts Department of Education (MADOE).

In offering awards, MADOE has given priority to public school districts and non-public schools, including Catholic schools with high numbers of disadvantaged students who need improvement in reading. The funding is available to public and non-public schools, including Catholic schools.

"Working cooperatively with their local public school districts, Catholic schools will be able to access instructional materials, education technology and specialized teacher training -- all of which will greatly enhance the reading outcomes for our eligible students," said Steve Perla, executive director of PACE.

At the behest of PACE, MADOE agreed to set aside an annual amount of Reading First funding for all eligible non-public schools. This new system essentially creates two funding streams in each district, one for public schools and one for eligible non-public schools. This unprecedented arrangement makes it easier for Catholic and other non-public schools to access and best utilize the federal funds to which they are entitled under law.

Through the Reading First program and the set-aside arrangement established with MADOE, Catholic schools are now better able to addresses the individual learning needs of their most vulnerable students.

Thirty-two Catholic schools and nine additional private schools will be served by this program during the 2003-04 school year. Recipients will have the potential for an additional four years of funding — based on reading progress in the public school district.

"The additional $150-$200 in Reading First money per K-3 student will make a critical difference in the ability of our schools to help struggling readers become confident, proficient ones,” Mr. Perla added.

Catholic schools in Chelsea, Chicopee, Fall River, Lawrence, Malden, Somerville, Springfield, Westfield, Worcester, Brockton, Cambridge, Lowell and Taunton will receive aide from the first distribution of Reading First funding.