State Senate passes early literacy improvement legislation

UPDATED: Kentucky students have experienced many struggles through the COVID-19 pandemic, and many schools have seen children fall even further behind.

Sen. Steve West, sponsor of Senate Bill 9, noted the critical impact of early childhood education in an individual’s future success and presented legislation to invest more in early literacy.

West said while versions of his bill have been heard and passed through committee in previous years, Senate Bill 9, the “Read to Succeed Act,” is a new approach to tackling the issue of early literacy. He said he has been working with education groups across the state, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), the Kentucky Chamber, and other stakeholders to craft the bill and said it “can be a game changer for Kentucky students.”

Micki Ray of KDE testified alongside West in committee stating Kentucky’s student success data is alarming, especially with the impacts of COVID-19. She said 50% of Kentucky students are performing below proficiency in 3rd grade reading assessments and stressed those not proficient by 3rd grade are four times more likely to not finish high school.

Currently, school districts can apply for Read to Achieve (RTA) grants and a teacher is placed in a school where students are sent for early intervention.

But West said there are 200,000 Kentucky students who are not getting this kind of help at schools who are considered the lowest performing schools in the state.

The new legislation would reach those students and establish a new high quality professional development program focused on early literacy. He stressed the bill does not impact the Read to Achieve program or the $15 million per year allocated to that program in any way, but instead would establish the Read to Succeed program to compliment current efforts.

West said $22 million would be spent in the current budget to set up the program which could be offset with the use of $10 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. After that, the program would cost $15 million per year.

West pointed to the program being established in Mississippi where they have seen many gains in success, as teachers have been trained and curriculum has been implemented.

Senate Bill 9 passed through the Senate Wednesday with a 28-7 vote after passing through the Senate Education Committee last week. The bill now moves to the full Senate.

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Jacqueline Pitts
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