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Senate approves 2-year reading retention delay

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

The Alabama Senate on Tuesday approved delaying by two years the third-grade holdback requirement in the Alabama Literacy Act.

Sen. Rodger Smitherman’s Senate Bill 200 now moves to the House, where it is in conflict with a bill to wait only one year to retain third graders who aren’t reading proficiently. Under the original 2019 act, that retention is supposed to start this spring. Under Smitherman’s bill, it would go into effect in Spring 2024.

Smitherman, D-Birmingham, has argued that COVID-19 has caused so many disruptions to education in the past two years, it would be unfair to hold back students because of the pandemic. 

“These kids haven’t been exposed (to the benefits of) the Literacy Act says they’ll be exposed to,” Smitherman said on the Senate floor.

Opponents said that no matter the reason, the state shouldn’t be promoting to fourth grade students who can’t read.

“It a child cannot read, they cannot learn,” Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston said. 

Though several Republican lawmakers spoke against Smitherman’s bill, he had enough GOP support to pass it on a 20-12 vote.

He successfully passed last year a similar bill that was vetoed by Gov. Kay Ivey, who said last year more data was needed before changes to the law were made.

Now, Ivey is supportive of the one-year holdback in House Bill 220, from Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur. That bill is awaiting a vote in the House.

Collins and Smitherman are in ongoing negotiations on a compromise.

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