Jacksonville Public Education Fund partners with Kids Hope Alliance to improve third-grade reading skills

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the need for this work greater than ever before.


September 15, 2021, Jacksonville, Fla. – The Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF) has partnered with the Kids Hope Alliance (KHA) to co-convene the local Campaign for Grade-Level Reading to improve early literacy skills and address learning loss from COVID-19.

The new partnership will take current efforts to the next level. JPEF will work alongside Kids Hope Alliance and other partners to operationalize a wide-ranging community effort to address literacy disparities, ignite action, and accelerate local progress to improve outcomes. Right now, a broad coalition of partners is working to identify gaps, set goals, and develop strategies. Examples of activities could include bolstering early learning programs, better connecting families to programs, and creating public awareness campaigns to build a “culture of reading” in Duval County.

“We know that isolated action, no matter how great or innovative, will not create the kind of change children need,” said JPEF President Rachael Tutwiler Fortune. “Reading is an essential skill that unlocks all other opportunities in life, and only by working together can we put Duval County’s children and youth on the pathway to success. JPEF is proud to partner with KHA to coordinate and align local efforts to improve third-grade reading.”  

“Improving early literacy has been a major focus of my wife, Molly, and I since taking office,” said Mayor Lenny Curry. “Reading broadens perspectives, increases knowledge, and opens so many doors for young minds to realize their full potential. I am grateful to the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, Kids Hope Alliance, and all area partners for their leadership in this important effort.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the need for this work greater than ever before. Early learning opportunities are the foundation for third-grade reading skills, but studies have shown that many families decided not to enroll children in pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten during the pandemic for fear of COVID-19 infection.

“Improving elementary reading performance is our top priority,” said Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene. “Reading capability is the foundation for future learning, and there is much the community can do, working together, to improve student achievement in this area. I am thankful that JPEF, Kids Hope Alliance, and other community partners are in sync with the district, and I’m looking forward to being involved in this important work.”

Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of children—about 65 percent nationwide and more than 75 percent from low-income families—were not reading proficiently by the third grade. Research shows that the third-grade milestone is pivotal. By third grade, reading struggles are strongly linked to later school difficulties, as well as behavioral infractions, depression, and/or negative peer relationships. Equally distressing, research indicates that 74 percent of children whose reading skills are less than sufficient by third grade are less likely to graduate from high school. As a result, these children could lack the skills for success in career and life. 

Over the last decade, states, cities, and communities have rallied to boost third-grade reading outcomes. At a national level, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading launched in 300+ communities. In Florida, the campaign has a growing presence in partnership with the Lectio Institute, which is associated with the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

“The key to the success of this effort is partnerships,” said Mike Weinstein, CEO of KHA. “JPEF and KHA are working closely with and grateful for the engagement of Duval County Public Schools, WJCT, the Jacksonville Public Library, READ USA, the Literacy Alliance of Northeast Florida, the City of Jacksonville, United Way of Northeast Florida, Communities in Schools, Nemours Children’s Health, the University of North Florida, Duval Early Learning Coalition, Episcopal Children’s Services, Lift Jax, and more.

Financial support from the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida will also play a critical role in this effort. The Community Foundation is funding JPEF’s campaign for grade-level reading and research to help identify solutions for Duval County.

JPEF’s role will be to convene meetings with cross-sector partners, develop the committee structure in partnership with Kids Hope Alliance, and drive a marketing and public awareness campaign. Specific goals and strategies will be announced in early 2022.

Contact Stephanie Garry Garfunkel, Director of Marketing & Communications, at (352) 359-2393 or stephanie@jaxpef.org for more information.



About the Jacksonville Public Education Fund

The Jacksonville Public Education Fund is an independent think-and-do tank that believes in the potential of all students. We work tirelessly to close the opportunity gap for low-income students and students of color. We convene educators, school system leaders and the community to pilot and help scale evidence-based solutions that advance school quality in Duval County. For more information: www.jaxpef.org.


About the Kids Hope Alliance

With the vision that every child and youth will reach their academic, career, and civic potential; Kids Hope Alliance: The Jacksonville Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families (KHA), a fiscal agency of the City of Jacksonville, is responsible for overseeing the implementation and management of children and youth programs, services, and activities, accomplished through third-party service providers. Through these partnerships with local providers, KHA’s mission is to build and ensure access to a continuum of comprehensive and integrated programs, services, and activities that address the critical needs of children, youth, and families in Jacksonville.

For more information, please visit www.kidshopealliance.org.    




of public schools in Duval County earned an "A," "B," or "C" in 2021-2022.