Felzkowski bill would help young children with reading

Measure would hand out grants up to $10K to help get books into the hands of kids up to age 5
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

A bill making its way through the Wisconsin Legislature would help make it easier to get books in the hands of young children.

Assembly Bill 741 would task the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families to establish a grant program where nonprofits can receive up to $10,000 to reimburse them for no more than 50% of the cost of books provided in partnership with a national reading program that mails age-appropriate books for free to children from birth to age 5. The program does it for all children, regardless of the family’s income.

Sen. Mary Felzkowski is one of four state senators sponsoring the bill, and she provided testimony in Madison earlier in January. The bill is up for discussion in the Wisconsin Senate in February, according to Felzkowski, and she expects the Assembly Education Committee will also address AB 741 that month.

“This has always been a passion of mine,” Felzkowski said in a phone interview Jan. 19. “This money goes out to nonprofit organizations, and those nonprofits will spend it … to get books into the hands of families with little children, getting them into reading and being engaged in the reading process way before they even start school.”

Felzkowski is hopeful that, once the books arrive, parents will read to their children and hopefully get them interested in reading by themselves. She noted that the program, Imagination Dolly Parton, has been “wildly successful” in other parts of the United States.

“I was still in the Assembly, and I went to the National Council of State Legislators held in Nashville, and Dolly Parton spoke to the group,” Felzkowski said. “This was at least six years ago, and this was something we always wanted to do in the state of Wisconsin, so we just got it done this year.”

Felzkowski noted the money for the program was set aside in the 2023-25 biennial budget approved last summer.

The program intrigued Felzkowski after she was invited to read to children at a federally qualified health center near Birnamwood. She said one of the doctors uses the books as a diagnostic tool to see what maturity level children are at, and that kids that have been read to show better maturity, development and learning potential over those who have never been read to.

“I’ve had that stuck in my mind for absolutely ever,” Felzkowski said. “So when the opportunity came up, we jumped on it.”

The senator believes the bill will easily sail through both chambers and be signed by Gov. Tony Evers.

“Gov. Evers is passionate about education and children, so I would assume he’d approve it,” Felzkowski said. “The money was in the budget, and he signed it. If he had opposed it in any way, shape or form, he probably would have vetoed the money out of the budget.”