Literacy Bill Advances After Passionate Debate

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A bill that makes it easier for schools to hold back struggling third graders passed its first floor vote in the Colorado House Tuesday. The measure is meant to ensure all young students actually learn to read. CPR’s education reporter Jenny Brundin covered the two hours of passionate debate over the bill.

Here’s a transcript of Jenny's story:

A quarter of Colorado’s third graders can’t read like they’re supposed to. The bill would try to intervene with struggling students starting in Kindergarten and help their parents find more resources. Democratic Representative Rhonda Fields:

Rhonda Fields: When you keep doing the same old thing and getting the same old results, that’s insanity. We have far too many kids that are not prepared to graduate or enter a career because they cannot read.

Several lawmakers didn’t like that the bill creates a way to hold back third graders who can't read at grade level. They argued most research shows retention does more harm than good. But bill sponsor, Republican Tom Massey, said retention needs to be part of the discussion with parents.

Tom Massey: The retention is strictly a last resort. It is part of the conversation only to realize what the ramifications could be.

Other lawmakers opposed the bill because it doesn’t come with any extra money to help financially strapped districts enhance reading instruction. Democrat Judy Solano says one district she represents has been forced to cut all of its 28 reading specialists and may soon increase class sizes.

Judy Solano: We are increasing the workload on our teachers and our principals, and tell me, if we can’t afford to take care of that, then how can we afford this bill that’s going to add more work and more intervention strategies? It comes with a cost.

The bill survived despite those objections. It has one more House vote before it moves to the Senate.

[Photo: CPR]