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First grade readiness bill back, with Senate Republicans’ support

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A bill requiring a first-grade readiness test or kindergarten attendance for the state’s young pupils is back in the Alabama State House, this time with newfound Senate support. 

Alabama doesn’t require kindergarten attendance and students can enter school in first grade at age 6. Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, for years has advocated for kindergarten attendance. Last year, her proposal for a testing requirement or kindergarten enrollment before first grade came close to final passage, only to die on the last day of session after opposition by fellow Democrat Sen. Roger Smitherman, of Birmingham. Last year, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper said some other Senate members had concerns about it too.

Now, Warren’s House Bill 113  is back and Reed is a co-sponsor on the Senate version sponsored by Sen. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva.

Chesteen, chair of the Senate Education Policy Committee, said it is a priority bill this year and should be before that body in a few weeks.

“It’s very favorable within our caucus,” Chesten told Alabama Daily News. Under the 2019 Literacy Act, which focused more funding and classroom attention on early reading, students who are not reading on grade level at the end of third grade can be held back starting this spring.

“We need to know where they are, from an assessment standpoint,” Chesteen said. “…If on that assessment, it shows they’re not ready for first grade, let’s give them the opportunity to get prepared. Let’s give them that foundation for when they get to third grade, they are fully prepared and are on grade level.”

Neither Warren nor Smitherman could be reached for comment. Warren’s House version of the bill is co-sponsored by Education Policy Committee chair Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur. 

“It’s truly needed,” Warren said last year about the legislation. “These kids are not ready (for first grade), and we’ve got to do something to get them ready.”

A fiscal note on last year’s proposal said it could cost $8.4 million from the Education Trust Fund, and that it could increase kindergarten enrollment by a maximum of 4,000 students annually.

Alabama Daily News’ Mary Sell contributed to this report. 

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