Washington D.C. – A coalition of 242 national and state-based organizations have joined together to urge Members of Congress to preserve federal funding for Even Start, a family literacy program that serves low-income families with young children. Over the last several years, Even Start’s funding has been cut by more than 75 percent, and President Obama’s proposed 2010 budget eliminates the program altogether. However, the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations legislation released Friday provides level funding for the critical program.

The Even Start program is based on a simple principle – that children will become better readers if their parents are able to read with them. It is the only federally funded program that requires a focus on building the literacy and basic education skills of parents so that they will be able to do their part in helping their children learn to read. By teaching parents how to read, and if need be, speak English, they will be able to read with their children, help them with their homework, and feel comfortable attending parent teacher conferences.

“Parents are a child’s first and most consistent teachers,” said Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization that spearheaded the letter. “And research shows that when parents receive basic adult and parenting education, their children score better on developmental tests. Even Start programs recognize this fact and help to make parents even better teachers. The House of Representatives has done its part to ensure the continuation of this important program. We hope this outpouring of support will convince the Senate to take similar action, strengthening families across the nation while at the same time jumpstarting the academic development of young children.”

In a letter to key Members of Congress, the organizations wrote “We urge you to preserve Even Start funding in the fiscal year 2010 education appropriations legislation – investing in parents and children reading together is vital to the academic success of our most vulnerable young children.” They added that funding would be used to strengthen and modernize the program. The letter was spearheaded by First Focus, the National Council of La Raza, the National Center for Family Literacy, the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy, and the National Literacy Coalition

Even Start focuses on helping families much poorer and less educated than most Americans. Nearly half of the families served by Even Start have an annual household income under $6,000, and about the same number struggle with limited English proficiency.