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Review of Save the Children's State Literacy Grant

November 2018

Author: Linda Wesson


Save the Children, an international, nonprofit agency, has provided student literacy programs in partnership with selected Tennessee public school districts for the past 13 years. Since 2006-07, Save the Children has been awarded annual grants ranging from $500,000 to $2 million by the General Assembly to help fund school-based literacy programs.

In its 2018 appropriations act (Public Chapter 1061), the legislature directed the Comptroller of the Treasury to review the Save the Children literacy programs and the state grants funding them and report the findings to the Chairs of the Finance, Ways, and Means Committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as to the Commissioner of Finance and Administration, by December 1, 2018.

Save the Children served children at 20 school sites, across nine districts in 2017-18, primarily through a mix of in-school and after-school programs, plus some summer camp and home visiting programs. Participating schools and districts have changed over the years, but the factors considered by Save the Children in partnering with schools have remained the same: poverty, rural location, and student academic achievement. Most of the 20 school sites served by the programs in 2017-18 had larger shares of disadvantaged students than the state overall and were in counties that are poorer or more rural than average.

Save the Children appears to be helping children attending its in-school and after-school programs improve their reading skills. Program results, based on nationally recognized screening assessments, indicate that at most school sites more than 70 percent of the 1,767 students tested had significant gains in 2017-18. Across all 20 schools, the percentage of students with significant gains was higher for students in Save the Children’s target group: students with below grade-level reading skills who attend programs for about half the days the programming is offered. Among this target group, 91 percent of kindergarteners and first graders showed significant gains, while 86 percent of such students in grades 2 and above also showed significant gains.