Are Dollar General’s Literacy Dollars Going to the Right Places in Tennessee?

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation is known as a big library funder across the U.S., and it’s really been picking up steam in Tennessee. Just recently, the Dollar General Foundation, which is based in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, teamed up with the State Department of Education to award Read to be Ready Summer Grants to 12 summer reading programs in the state.

However, these Read to be Ready grants have come with some local criticism because none of them are going to groups in Shelby County, a place that has a third grade reading proficiency of just 39.5 percent. This is also the state's largest county by both population and geographic area.

According to News Channel 3 WREG Memphis, 224 grant applications were received for the Read to be Ready grants, including 35 from programs in Shelby County and 10 from Shelby County schools and the district. Dollar General, the Tennessee Department of Education, and other higher education and community organization leaders reviewed the applications, but none from literacy-deficient Shelby County made the cut.

The purpose of these grants is to “target low-income students who we know experience the greatest summer learning loss” in Tennessee. So it begs the questions of how well informed local grantmakers and governing bodies are about the educational needs in Tennessee communities, of if there’s a political reason for funding some districts over others in desperate need. Overall, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation gave $1 for these Read to be Ready grants.

But to be fair, in addition to the Read to be Ready summer grants, the corporate funder also gave $53,000 to Memphis area programs that promote literacy. These include the Tipton County Public Library, Literacy Mid-South, and Southwest Tennessee Community College, among others. Recent Dollar General grants have been $3,000 and $8,000 per recipient and are going towards causes like providing access to books and reading tutors.  

However, Tennessee certainly isn’t the only place that Dollar General pays attention to with its literacy funding. It actually supports literacy programs in 43 states, leaving out only five states in the north/northwest part of the country. By far, the most Dollar General stores are located in Texas (1,267 stores), followed by Florida with 720, North Carolina with 647, Alabama with 639, and Tennessee with 622. This means that the Southeast is in prominent view of this funder, and we expect to see a lot more funding activity in this region in the months and years ahead.

There are actually several different literacy grant programs at Dollar General: adult literacy grants, a library relief program, family literacy grants, summer reading grants, and youth literacy grants. Since 1993, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation has awarded more than $120 million in grants to nonprofits and schools that have helped more than 7.3 million individuals learn to read, prepare for the high school equivalency test, and learn English.