Ashli Sims, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- Thousands of students at Tulsa Public Schools cannot read on grade level. And that has the entire district on the federal needs improvement list.

The district is hitting the books, trying to figure out how to boost its students' reading scores.

"We're concerned and we are concerned," said Verna Ruffin, Assistant Superintendent for Tulsa Public Schools. "We're concerned and we have a plan in place."

The entire district is now in need of improvement. Too many TPS students failed their reading tests.

More than 40 percent of TPS third graders can't keep up with their reading course work. Half of sixth-graders are falling behind in reading and almost half of seventh graders missed the mark.

"We are in the process of drafting a plan right now," Tracy Bayles, Executive Director of Federal Programs. "And yes, we've brought stakeholders to the table from parents and community members and we're working to address the issue."

But TPS already spends millions of dollars every year on reading programs, special reading teachers and coaches. According to the district's 2009-2010 budget, TPS got at least five state and federal grants, targeting reading.

The district spent more than $400,000 on a summer reading program, more than $600,000 through the reading sufficiency grant, another $8,000 on proficiency, $1.3 million on the Reading First program, and another $640,000 on literacy and school libraries.

That's more than $3 million and that does not include federal title-one money that's designated for reading as well.

Because it's in need of improvement, TPS will now have to set aside money to teach teachers how to teach reading better.

"We're going to have literacy coaches out at some of the sites, where we've anallyzed and found where the most need is," said Wendy Pharr, Director of Title One.

But this is nothing new for TPS. The district employs 16 reading specialists and coaches for nearly $670,000.

Now this is likely a fraction of what the district actually spends on reading.  News On 6 reporter Ashli Sims asked TPS for the numbers and school leaders say they're working on it.

School board member Brian Hunt says he believes the board is doing a better job of working to narrow down the reading programs to get some consistency and evaluate what's working and what's not.

But he says they do need to take a closer look at where the money is going.