A new fund will help ensure the Janesville School District’s efforts to promote early childhood education keep moving forward.

The Janesville School Board this week unanimously approved creating an endowment fund through the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin to funnel money into the district’s community-based early literacy program.

“The literacy initiative is a group of community people tasked with closing the achievement gap,” Superintendent Steve Pophal told the board Tuesday. “It’s supporting families so that 4- and 5-year-olds enter school ready to learn.”

The achievement gap refers to the disparity in academic achievement among students of various income levels, races and genders.

The early literacy program, which started in fall 2017, has two parts: parent education and getting books into children’s hands.

With financial help from the United Way, the school district joined the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which mails age-appropriate books to 1,000 children on a monthly basis, according to Pophal’s memo to the school board.

The United Way has agreed to pay for three years of the Imagination Library at a cost of $90,000, according to the memo.

The parent education part of the initiative is called “Read, Talk & Play Every Day.” Mercyhealth and SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville have agreed to give new parents training and information on brain development. Parents also will receive literacy kits with a book, a set of easy brain development activities and a rattle.

“With parents knowing the why and how of early literacy, it’s impossible to think those books won’t get put to good use,” Pophal told the board.

Pophal and other members of the early childhood literacy team have raised $65,000 to pay for materials. Efforts by district staff and medical professionals to educate parents also have helped, the memo states.

The early literacy program is crucial to the success of the district’s goal to have 90% of third-graders reading at grade level before they leave third grade.

If children don’t read and talk with parents early on, they start school behind their peers. Watching television or videos does not supply the same experiences, Pophal has said.

Using a pay-as-you-go system for the early literacy initiative has worked so far, but the program needs uninterrupted funding to reap the most benefits, he said.

“The district has had a fair amount of success with donations so far,” he said. “But the ability to sustain this work sends us in the direction of an endowment.”

The school board will oversee the fund. The Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin will charge the fund 1.25% of its fair market value each year.

Board member Michelle Haworth said the new fund will create a “legacy for the community.”

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