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Councilwoman Sharon Tucker has been selected by the Allen County Democratic Party to replace late Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry

Majority of GOP gubernatorial candidates in latest debate oppose new reading retention law

A screenshot of a televised debate in which five candidates stand behind lecterns.
Screenshot of WISH TV livestream
Brad Chambers and Suzanne Crouch raised their hands during the WISH-TV Republican gubernatorial primary debate on March 27, 2024 when asked which candidates support the state's new reading retention law. Curtis Hill, at left, and Eric Doden and Mike Braun, at right, did not.

A majority of the Republican gubernatorial candidates on a debate stage Wednesday said they don’t support the new Indiana law that could hold back thousands of students who fail their third grade reading test.

Former Attorney General Curtis Hill criticized SEA 1 as imposing a “one size fits all” solution.

“We need to provide individual assessments to make sure that we’re doing the right thing by these children,” Hill said.

The new law mandates the creation of reading screeners, aimed at helping identify students who are struggling much earlier. It also requires schools to start testing in second grade and expands eligibility for summer school funding.

Eric Doden, former head of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, said the focus must be far earlier in children’s lives.

“That we are putting a stake in the ground and saying that we need to use for universal early childhood education,” Doden said.

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said holding kids back is a “knee jerk reaction.”

“It’s got to be a comprehensive approach,” Braun said. “And it’s got to start with teaching kids basic skill sets by the time they get in there to where they leave, as a high school graduate, with something more than we’re currently giving it.”

READ MORE: Republican gubernatorial candidates spar in primary's first televised debate

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Former state commerce secretary Brad Chambers and Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch were the only candidates in favor of the law. Chambers said literacy problems will haunt children the rest of their lives.

“A child who cannot read in third grade, going into fourth grade, is four times more likely to drop out of high school,” Chambers said.

Crouch echoed that, saying children who can’t read by the third grade will struggle throughout their lives.

“It’s why, as governor, I’ll make sure that parents have more choices in their children’s education,” Crouch said. “We’ll make sure that they have control over what’s being taught to our children.”

All of the candidates support expanding "choices" for students and families. The only people not eligible for Indiana’s school voucher program are those making more than $222,000 for a family of four.

Jamie Reitenour, who will also appear on the Republican gubernatorial primary ballot, was excluded from the debate.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.