Philanthropic Partners Make Strategic Investments of $2.8 Million in Read On Arizona to Improve Early Childhood Literacy

April 05, 2022

Read On Arizona

To help Arizona’s youngest students recover from the impact of the pandemic and accelerate improvement in third-grade reading, philanthropic partners have come together in a funding collaboration to help sustain and expand the capacity of Read On Arizona, our state’s early literacy initiative.

The grants come at a critical time. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Arizona was making steady progress on third-grade reading proficiency, a strong predictor of high school graduation and college attendance. But the pandemic created unprecedented disruptions in education, and Arizona’s youngest students experienced significant learning disruptions. As a result, only 35 percent of third-grade students passed the state’s English Language Arts assessment in 2021, an 11-point drop since the onset of the pandemic, and achievement gaps among economically disadvantaged students and other key subgroups grew even wider.

The recent investments from four philanthropic partners—the Burton Family Foundation, Helios Education Foundation, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, and The Steele Foundation—total $2.8 million over the next three years and will help Arizona get back on track and sustain Read On Arizona's strategic, collaborative approach to improving early literacy for the long term.

“Ensuring that Arizona’s students read by third grade is an education priority of Helios and is essential to keeping our students on a path toward high school and college success,” said Paul J. Luna, President and CEO of Helios Education Foundation. “We are grateful for the leadership of Read On Arizona and the other funding partners to help ensure that all students in Arizona read at grade level by third grade.”

“Aligning public and private early literacy efforts across the populous and diverse state of Arizona is no easy task,” said Mary Jane Rynd, President and CEO, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust. “Read On Arizona is an exemplar of collective impact in connecting the dots among partners, strategies, data, and policy—thanks to the inclusive and comprehensive approach Terri Clark has led over the past nine years. This strong and new support from philanthropic partners is a true testament to the effectiveness of Read On Arizona.”

Since its inception in 2013, Read On Arizona has brought together key partners in Arizona’s early literacy system to drive improvement in language and literacy outcomes for children from birth to age eight, with strategic focus on school readiness and third-grade reading proficiency. Partners in Read On Arizona take a collective impact approach, working together in coordination and alignment, sharing data, and maximizing investments to drive large-scale change.

"...ensuring sustainability and building capacity for Read On Arizona were high priorities."

“Over many months of collaboration and planning, partners emphasized that ensuring sustainability and building capacity for Read On Arizona were high priorities,” said Arizona Literacy Director Terri Clark, who leads the Read On Arizona collaboration. “These investments will enable us to continue our shared work and do even more to accelerate progress toward our goals. In the wake of the pandemic, we need an even more intensive, coordinated focus on early literacy across Arizona, with targeted strategies to help our largest subgroups of struggling readers.”

“The Burton Family Foundation is pleased to support the critical work of Read On Arizona,” said Christy Burton, Co-Founder and Chair of the Burton Family Foundation. “The network of partners Read On Arizona has built across the state has dramatically enhanced communication and coordination among public and private organizations committed to improving early literacy among Arizona’s children. This kind of cross-sector collaboration is key to ensuring that every Arizona child has access to the resources they need to build and strengthen their literacy skills.”

“With a focus on high-quality preschools and emergent literacy programs, The Steele Foundation invests in innovative leaders who drive progress to elevate their work with kids. Terri has been instrumental in bridging public-private efforts in early literacy,” said Marianne Cracchiolo Mago, CEO and President, The Steele Foundation. “The pandemic brought great disruption in education. Alongside our partners in this effort, we are focused on getting Arizona students back on track and ready to succeed.”

This new philanthropic support of Read On Arizona complements other recent, large-scale investments and policies now in place to help Arizona respond to and recover from the impact of the pandemic and get back on track for improved early literacy outcomes. The collective support among partners of Read On Arizona’s policy priorities in 2021 informed transformative new legislation and guided recommendations resulting in more than $100 million in new funding for early literacy in our state. Arizona was also awarded a federal Comprehensive Literacy State Development (CLSD) grant in 2020, totaling $20 million over five years, to support high-need populations. Arizona’s CLSD application was developed by Read On Arizona, the Arizona Department of Education, and First Things First.