Senate committee debates fiscal impacts of third grade reading bill, passes it to full chamber
A bill that proposes solutions to the state’s reading crisis, including holding back third graders who fail the IREAD-3test, passed the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday. The committee debated potential long-term fiscal impacts of the proposed solutions and whether they are tenable if passed in a non-budget year.
Senate Bill 1 proposes boosting third grade reading scores by testing all students before they reach third grade, expanding summer school options for reading remediation and retaining more students who don’t pass the state’s reading exam by the end of third grade.
Sen. Linda Rogers (R-Granger), the bill’s author, said there is little to no fiscal impact from requiring second graders to take the exam. The Indiana Department of Education is already piloting a program for second graders to take the IREAD-3 and Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said there is already money in the department’s budget.
Summer school expansion is also expected to come at very little cost to the state. Jenner said most Indiana schools spend the majority of their summer school budget on physical education courses. She says schools could prioritize reading courses instead.
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The fiscal impact of retaining third graders is still unknown, but the state’s Legislative Services Agency estimates retention could cost between $47 million to $55 million by 2035. Jenner said that number is based on 2023 reading scores and should be significantly lower in the future once some of the state’s reading solutions are enacted.
This is not the first year lawmakers have tackled plummeting reading scores. Jenner said many educators should be trained in the science of reading, an approach that emphasizes phonics, within the next few years. The state passed a law last year that requires schools to adopt science of reading curriculums by the 2024-25 school year.
Jenner said preparing educators to transition to science of reading last year was only part of the equation. She has spoken in favor of Senate Bill 1 despite some lawmakers’ and educators’ concerns that the retention aspect of the bill could cause social and emotional harm to some students.
Sen. Fady Qaddoura (D-Indianapolis) was one of the lawmakers who expressed concern with the bill. He told the Senate Appropriations Committee that he voted against the bill because he is interested in a more targeted approach than retention and he would like to consider solutions like expanding universal pre-K programs and lowering the mandatory age to enroll in school from 7-years-old to 5.
Rogers, the bill’s author, said multiple times that Senate Bill 1 is not a retention bill. She emphasized that retention is a last-case scenario for students who have no other options.
The bill now moves to second reading in the full Senate.