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Katko meals

FILE - U.S. Rep. John Katko serves meals at the Boys & Girls Club of Syracuse in August 2018. 

While children are receiving nourishment at summer meal sites, U.S. Reps. John Katko and Joe Morelle want to ensure they will have access to books. 

A bill introduced by Katko, R-Camillus, and Morelle, D-Irondequoit, would establish a federal grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Education to support reading programs at summer meal sites. Schools that provide meals and where at least 50% of students read below grade level or are at risk of reading below grade level would be eligible for funding to keep libraries open during the summer. 

If the program is established, it would provide $5 million annually over a five-year period to support reading at summer meal sites. 

Grant recipients would be required to submit annual reports to the Department of Education on the progress of summer reading programs, according to a joint news release from Katko and Morelle. 

The proposal is modeled after a program in Oregon that aimed to help students who read below their grade level. The state's initiative allowed schools that serve meals to keep libraries open over the summer. 

A version of the bill was introduced in the last Congress by Oregon U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden. 

Katko believes providing the funds can help ensure children receive the meals they need and give them access to reading resources during the summer. 

"This legislation tackles both issues, enabling at-risk children to enjoy quality meals while simultaneously advancing their education between school years," he said. 

Morelle noted that lack of educational opportunities during the summer months can impact a student's academic progress, especially students in underserved communities.

The congressmen cited research that shows low-income children tend to lose at least two months of reading achievement every summer. By fifth grade, children that don't have access to summer learning programs are two years behind their classmates. 

"Children in poverty and low-income communities already face a number of barriers to achievement without being exacerbated by summer learning loss," Morelle said. "I'm proud to partner with Representative Katko to introduce this common-sense legislation that combats both academic and nutritional instability and ensures students have a safe, stable place to learn over the summer." 

The supporters of the bill include the National Summer Learning Association, an organization that promotes educational opportunities over the summer. 

Aaron Philip Dworkin, the association's CEO, highlighted the potential benefits of the bill introduced by Katko and Morelle. 

"Programs that bring together natural partners like schools and libraries and include the critical summer meals component help communities efficiently use resources and ensure that youth who are most at risk have access to summer supports that help them thrive year round," he said. 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at auburnpub.com.