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Senate committee rejects governor’s plan to improve fourth-grade reading in Kansas

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, at 4:41 p.m.

— A split Senate panel defeated Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal to improve fourth-grade reading by holding back third-graders who can’t read at grade level.

The Senate Education Committee opposed the Kansas Reads to Succeed Act on a 6-5 vote Tuesday.

Brownback made improving fourth-grade reading proficiency one of his top priorities when he ran for governor.

In addition to holding third-graders with insufficient reading skills back, the bill would have required schools to test students in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first and second grade to identify reading problems. It would have provided grant money for districts and would have rewarded schools in the top 100 for reading scores with $10,000.

An addition to the bill, created by Arkansas City Republican Sen. Steve Abrams, would have allowed third-graders to re-take the reading test if they failed on the first attempt.

But the plan still failed to get enough traction.

Republican Sens. Dan Kerschen of Garden Plain, Vicki Schmidt of Topeka, Kay Wolf of Prairie Village and Ralph Ostmeyer of Grinnell opposed the bill along with Democratic Sens. Anthony Hensley of Topeka and Pat Pettey of Kansas City.

School officials from Topeka and Kansas City, Kan., opposed Brownback’s reading plan and said the money could be better spent on other reading improvement strategies.

Wichita’s school district suggested remodeling the bill entirely.

Schmidt said the state should focus more on reading programs for younger kids.

“I think the train has to be backed up much, much further than third grade to make a difference,” she said.

Schmidt questioned how much retaining third-graders might cost local school districts, but no estimate was available.

Hensley, the Senate minority leader, said the state is dealing with scarce education resources and state money would be better spent on early childhood reading programs.

“It makes absolutely no sense, in my estimation, to retain children at third grade,” he said.

But Sen. Jeff Melcher, R-Leawood, said it’s important to deal with students’ reading troubles, and the governor’s plan would improve reading by giving students the motivation of a consequence.

“There’s nothing more motivating than having a dead certain consequence,” he said.

Abrams, who is chair of the education committee, said it’s possible the plan could reemerge later in the session.

Reach Brent Wistrom at 785-296-3006 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com.

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