Clark County kids age 5 and under will be able to get free books in the mail each month, thanks to bipartisan legislation recently passed by the state House and Senate.
House Bill 2068, sponsored by state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, and co-sponsored by state Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, expands the state’s program to all of Washington’s 39 counties.
“Imagine every student in this state, from birth to the age of 5, getting age-appropriate books sent to them every month. It’s incredible,” state Superintendent of Schools Chris Reykdal said Wednesday during a press conference.
Reykdal described the program as “transformative,” adding the goal is to have 150,000 students participating in the program by the end of 2023. The free books will be provided to any family enrolled in the program, regardless of income.
The Imagination Library program was founded by music icon Dolly Parton in 1995 as a way to foster a love of reading in young children in her home state of Tennessee. Since then, the library program has spread across the nation and five countries. To date, the Imagination Library has provided 174 million free books to children.
In Washington, the statewide expansion effort will be led by United Ways of the Pacific Northwest. Executive Director Brooke Fisher-Clark will partner with current local program affiliates and will help new programs get established. Prospective affiliates must be a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit.
Affiliates will receive 50 percent match funding each month to help increase enrollment. The expansion funding will be provided by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, which contracted with United Way to lead the effort.
In a pre-recorded video played during the press conference, Parton congratulated the state on passing an important milestone for the program and thanked all those who worked to expand access across Washington.
“You’ve brought so much joy to so many families, and for that I simply wanted to say thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Parton said.
The state’s first Imagination Library was established in Lewis County by the Lewis County Rotary Foundation and United Way of Lewis County in 2019. Washington is the 11th state to commit to a statewide program.
According to Reykdal, the state already has 20 counties participating fully in the program and another eight counties participate partially, including Clark County.
“We know the birth to 5 age range is a critically important time in reading development, and expanding access to underserved areas across the state will help set up the next generation of readers for success,” Reykdal said.
Anyone interested in enrolling in the program can find more information on the new library website at www.imaginationlibrarywashington.org.
“It brings this amazing experience into the home and creates family engagement, time with little ones to read and explore, and learn and develop really important skills to prepare for school,” Fisher-Clark said.