Imagination Library literacy program enacted into state law

Oklahoma is on its way to having its own Imagination Library — a literacy program providing free books to encourage children to read.
Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow, and Rep Tammy Townley, R-Ardmore, are principal authors of Senate Bill 1803, creating the framework for Oklahoma’s Imagination Library, modeled after a program founded by entertainer Dolly Parton in her home state of Tennessee. Governor Kevin Stitt signed the measure into law last Thursday (May 21).

“The Imagination Library is a public/private partnership that will mail every single child in Oklahoma one high-quality, age appropriate book a month from birth through age five, with no restrictions or financial limits for families to participate,” Haste said, in a press release sent to The City Sentinel and other news organizations. 
“This program has been proven to increase reading time, increase kindergarten readiness and is credited with helping children score higher on reading tests.”

S.B. 1803 creates a revolving fund for Oklahoma’s Imagination Library and places administration under the State Department of Education. Haste said the first book mailed to each Oklahoma child will be “The Little Engine that Could.”

Haste said he was inspired to begin an Imagination Library after attending a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Tennessee in 2019, which included a presentation with Parton.
She founded the Imagination Library in 1995 for the children in Sevier County, Tennessee, with the program later expanding throughout the entire state. Today, Parton’s Imagination Library has partners in communities throughout the country, with statewide programs in North Carolina, Ohio, Arkansas and Delaware and has been adopted in Australia, Canada, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

“Reading is the basis for all learning,” Townley said, in her statement. 
“Inspiring a love of reading in children at an early age will help better prepare them to become life-long learners and give them a leg up when they start school. I’m thankful to have worked with Senator Haste to bring this program to Oklahoma and I look forward to seeing the impact this will have on our school-age children.”

Thanking Sen. Haste and Rep. Townley for their work on the issue was state Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, who has been active in support of education improvements and funding during her tenure at the state Capitol. 
In an after-session discussion review of the 2020 legislative session, Sen. Bice told The City Sentinel: “As Oklahoma develops the workforce of the future, parents, teachers, care-providers and all who love children will remain focused on both the practical development of skills and the blessings of imagination. Oklahomans think we can – and we will.” 

On final passage, S.B. 1803 cleared the Senate 32-14, and prevailed 60-25  in the House. 

NOTE: Patrick B. McGuigan, founder of CapitolBeatOK and publisher of The City Sentinel newspaper, contributed to this report.