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State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced a statewide initiative Tuesday to ensure that all students learn to read by third grade by 2026.

Thurmond said he plans to form a task force comprised of education and literacy experts, researchers and advocates as well as students and parents to determine strategies that will help students learn to read.

Assemblywoman Mia Bonta, D-Oakland, will also introduce legislation next year that will support the literacy initiative, Thurmond, Bonta and other state officials and education experts said during a virtual briefing.

“We already know that when students learn to read, they can read to learn anything, that this is a gateway skill that can carry them to any point in their life, in their career and in their journey,” he said.

Thurmond argued that students who learn to read by third grade are less likely to drop out of school and less likely to enter the criminal justice system.

Improving literacy is also a matter of equity, he said, noting that while roughly half of the state’s students read at their grade level, that figure can drop into the 30s and lower among Black, Latino and Native American students and students whose families struggle with poverty.

“We know that our students can learn, and they can overcome obstacles, but we have to give them the resources to do that,” Thurmond said.

Students, parents and others who are interested in participating in the literacy effort are encouraged to contact the California Department of Education.