An adult Arkansan learns to read

Dewitt’s Toby Allen Lane is 31 years old. He is married. He works at Dean Robinson Seeds, and his boss considers him management material. He is a responsible, upstanding citizen. And as of last November, he couldn’t read.

As of today, he can thanks to a decision he made to seek help from the Literacy Council of Arkansas County. His tutor, Terri Cooper, says he is a motivated, goal-oriented student, which explains why he now is reading at a high middle school level.

Lane is not alone. No one knows how many adult Arkansans can’t read, but the Arkansas Literacy Councils, the state’s umbrella organization, is working to reduce the number. For two years, I was president of the board of directors, so I know a lot about its work.

It would be hard to find a more efficient organization offering more bang for the buck. Thanks to an army of 6,000 volunteer tutors, last year it helped 12,063 adults improve their reading, writing, and/or English language skills at a cost of $675,000 in state funds, plus other sources of funding. That’s $56 per student.

But it could do more. That $675,000 hasn’t been increased for decades. According to Executive Director Jennifer Holman, there are 628 adults on waiting lists. There would be more if local councils had the money to better market their services.

Arkansas has made tremendous investments in K-12 and higher education – in other words, services for people under 25. Couldn’t it do more – either publicly or privately – for the Toby Lanes of the world?

That’s the subject of my column this week for the Arkansas News Bureau.

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