SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The Louisiana Department of Education announced a new program to provide vouchers to give tutoring access to students that struggle with reading proficiency.

The Steve Carter Literacy Tutoring Program will provide eligible K-5 public school students with access to high-quality literacy tutors to battle the literacy gap that many Louisiana students are struggling to overcome.

The tutoring program is named after the late Baton Rouge State Representative Steve Carter, a strong proponent of public education, and came as a result of Act 415. The $40 million investment by LDOE for the program is part of the state’s comprehensive strategy to battle the literacy crisis.

The program has the bi-partisan support of Louisiana State Representatives Jason Hughes and Scott McKnight; both lawmakers expressed passion when speaking about Rep. Carter’s vision for Louisiana students.

The program will provide $1,000 vouchers to families to cover the expense of tutoring. The LDOE will also provide a list of approved tutors allowing parents to choose the qualified provider of their choice.

LDOE Deputy Superintendent Dr. Jenna Chiasson explained the importance of implementing the program to improve reading outcomes.

“Tutoring is a research-based strategy to address unfinished learning. When it comes to foundational literacy skills, children need targeted intervention. The most impactful intervention can occur when students’ unique needs are identified, and instruction is tailored to meet the gaps in student learning,” Chaisson said.

School districts will identify eligible students and notify parents of their child’s eligibility for the voucher. Parents can sign up for the program through an online portal or visit the website to learn more. The portal will be a one-stop shop for families to register, select tutors, and manage vouchers.

Louisiana State Superintendent Dr. Cade Brumley says the program is one of many tools the Department of Education will use to address the state literacy crisis. Brumley calls Act 415 an educational freedom bill because parents can choose who provides that vital reading reinforcement to their child.

“Parents will be able to go in, see their child’s voucher for $1,000 and be able to apply that voucher to various vendors throughout the state who have been approved by our selection process,” Brumley said. “We believe that with the $1,000 voucher and the price points that our team has set for the vendors, if a child wants individualized instruction and individualized tutoring, it will cover about 25 sessions over the course of a year. If they want small group tutoring in a group of up to three students, they would be able to receive about 35 sessions.”

Brumley says the program will empower parents to make the best educational decisions for their children while the department continues to work through the literacy crisis in the state.

According to Brumley, recent test data shows that there are bright spots, although the state struggles to get kids reading on grade level.

“We know that in the area of fourth-grade reading, our reading proficiency for fourth graders is actually stronger now than it was before the pandemic,” Brumley said.

The state superintendent credits this growth with districts emphasizing face-to-face instruction, heavy involvement in summer programs, early tutoring, and teacher collaborations. He also said working with the legislators and the BESE board to address the need for increased reading proficiency has laid the groundwork for long-term success.

Students will have access to in-person or online tutoring sessions, which could be an issue for students in rural areas who may be challenging to reach for in-person sessions and often have limited broadband access. Brumley said the LDOE is sensitive to the needs of students in rural parts of the state and is working on a solution.

“We certainly care a lot about rural education, and we have thought through this a good bit. We have a rolling RFP for tutoring vendors to be able to be part of the program. We think that once we begin to advertise for the program, it will gain momentum. We will probably hear from more vendors who want to be a part of the program, and they can certainly apply for that.”

Brumley acknowledges that there may not be as many in-person tutors in the program’s infancy but expects it to grow as more providers become aware of the program. He acknowledges that it will not be a perfect process initially but said getting Louisiana students reading on grade level is the goal.

For more information about the tutoring voucher program, visit Louisiana Believes. Families may contact LouisianaLiteracy@la.gov with additional questions after speaking with their child’s school.