West Palm Beach establishes local grant program to boost math and reading skills

The Palm Beach Post | By Wayne Washington | Updated February 14, 2022

West Palm Beach has established a grant program to boost the math and reading skills of local elementary school students.

Mayor Keith James said the modest grant program, which uses $25,000 in city money and another $8,000 from the Community Redevelopment Agency, is the first time the city’s general fund has been tapped to pay for education. Schools will be eligible for grants of up to $3,000.

“We are making these grants available to eligible schools because we want to directly impact the lives of elementary school students in West Palm Beach by helping to lay the groundwork for their future success,” James said. “This is another way West Palm Beach is becoming a community of opportunity for all. I encourage all elementary schools in West Palm Beach to apply for the grants.”

Schools in Palm Beach County, including the 11 elementary schools located in West Palm Beach, are funded through local property taxes along with state and federal money.

The Palm Beach County School District is the nation’s 10th-largest, and its annual budget is more than $4 billion. The district already has a variety of programs aimed at improving the math and reading skills of its students.

It’s not clear how much impact a $3,000 grant could have on reading and math skills, but James said the goal is to have the city do whatever it can to help.

“Something is better than nothing,” the mayor said when asked about whether a $3,000 grant could help boost reading and math skills. “Every thousand-mile journey begins with the first step. I see this as a first step to providing tangible support to schools located in our city. While we hope to do more in future budget cycles, we have to start somewhere.”

In a press release announcing establishment of the program, the city said it will “fund educational resources and specialized programming to help increase the reading and/or math skills of students at or below the 25th percentile at eligible elementary schools in West Palm Beach.”

Beyond stating the goal of the grant program, James said he won’t be spelling out specifically how schools are to use the money. “I’m intentionally leaving this up to the schools,” he said. “They know their needs better than I do.”

According to the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County, which recruits and trains community volunteers to tutor children who are struggling with reading, 46% of third-grade students in Palm Beach County are reading below grade level. Education experts have said strong reading skills are key to mastery of other subjects.

Reading scores from third-graders in the county was a bright spot during spring 2021 testing. Despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, 54 percent of third-graders tested passed the state’s reading assessment.

School grades posted to West Palm Beach’s 11 elementary schools show they are faring well. None of the schools have a grade below a C. Six have a grade of a B, and one — Northboro Elementary — has an A grade.

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