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Reading Bill a Major Step for SC

After two years of hard work, the General Assembly is poised to pass the first real and meaningful education reform in years, and I want to thank my colleagues in both the House and Senate, on both sides of the political aisle, for getting us this far — and urge them not to let this opportunity pass us by.

There’s a reason the old song about “reading, writing and ’rithmatic” puts “reading” first. Reading is the foundation for all educational success. These days, you often hear folks say “Up until third grade, children learn to read. After third grade, they read to learn.”

That makes a lot of sense, but too many kids go beyond the third grade without that critical foundation in place. When that happens, our educational system fails them, and it’s high time we stop it.

First the Senate and then the House passed my Read to Succeed plan — a simple plan with a simple goal of making sure South Carolina’s children are reading on grade level.

There are a few differences still to work out, but the plan starts with an idea that should be common sense: ending social promotion for third graders who are not yet reading on grade level.

Children are making it too far in our school system without having this building block for success in place. Is it any wonder that by any objective measure of educational performance — graduation rates, standardized test scores, you name it — South Carolina has lagged behind for years?

This bill is a step toward changing that, because we know if we make a difference early, we have a better chance of improving educational outcomes going forward.

Beyond retaining third-graders who can’t read at grade level, starting in the 2017 school year, the bill provides that:

•  Working with the state Department of Education, we’ll put a state reading plan and district reading plans in place.

•   Next school year, we’ll begin a readiness assessment for 4-year-old and 5-year-old kindergarten, so teachers know how far along children are when they first come to school.

•  We’ll give school districts flexibility to provide summer reading camps, with a minimum of six weeks, four days per week and four hours per day. Transportation to and from those camps will be provided at no cost to parents. The House and Senate both allocated $4 million to these camps.

•  These summer reading camps will be provided at no cost to parents whose 5K to third-grade children are found to need them.

This bill can become a great example of Democrats and Republicans cooperating on a goal everyone agrees upon, if we can work together to provide for a statewide 4-year-old kindergarten program, to be implemented based upon availability of funding.

A great measure of credit goes to Gov. Nikki Haley for her support and promotion of this initiative. The governor’s executive budget funded $29.5 million for reading coaches, which was a tremendous catalyst to get things clicking this year. By providing a dedicated funding source, she brought focus to the Read to Succeed proposal, and led the House and the Senate Finance Committee to adopt it in the budget.

In a legislative session that has been marked by controversies that quite frankly do nothing to move our state forward, regardless of their outcome, this can be a tangible improvement that will have a lasting and positive effect on education in our state.

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