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Kentucky lawmakers vote to end UK literacy center contract

A panel of Kentucky lawmakers has voted to end a $1.2 million contract with a literacy center based at the University of Kentucky.
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FRANKFORT, Ky. — A panel of Kentucky lawmakers voted to end a $1.2 million contract with a literacy center based at the University of Kentucky, saying it has failed to meet its statutory duties.

The unanimous vote on Wednesday follows an investigation into the literacy center by The Courier Journal that found it was not fulfilling its mandates, including a research requirement and a requirement to evaluate the reading programs used across the state. State data show roughly 180,000 students who took spring 2022 exams failed to meet Kentucky’s bar for reading proficiency.

The Collaborative Center for Literacy Development was created by statute in 1998 and is a collaboration between education faculty at the state’s eight public universities. The center is tasked with providing Kentucky teachers training and information on the best way to teach children to read. But lawmakers at the Government Contract Review Committee meeting questioned the center's effectiveness, The Courier Journal reported.

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“These folks simply have not delivered, have not had any accountability to our legislature,” said committee co-chair Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield. “I think it’s just become an academic think tank that has not done anything other than perpetuate their own existence.”

University of Kentucky College of Education Dean Julian Vasquez Heilig, in a written statement, defended the center. It has “provided support for tens of thousands of teachers and their students across the Commonwealth for more than two decades,” he wrote. “The breadth of programs go far beyond reading intervention and diagnostic services to include early childhood initiatives, Kentucky Reading Project, Adolescent Literacy Project, and the Early Language and Literacy Project.”

The state has provided the center with at least $60 million since 2004.

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“They’ve had their opportunity,” Meredith said. “We’ve invested millions of dollars in this, (and) have not seen any return on those dollars whatsoever.”

It is unclear what would happen to literacy center's unspent funding should the state terminate its agreement mid-contract. It also is unclear whether the contract can be terminated, since the center is required to exist under state law. However there is no requirement that it be housed at the University of Kentucky.

The Kentucky Department of Education, which administers the literacy center’s contract, agrees with the decision to end the contract, spokeswoman Toni Konz Tatman said.

“We are further recommending to the General Assembly that they add additional resources to create a new statewide literacy center, selected competitively, to include an external and third-party evaluation,” she said.

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