MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday vetoed legislation to delay next year’s high-stakes requirement to hold back third graders who aren’t reading at grade level, a postponement lawmakers wanted after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted classrooms.
The veto means that the promotion requirement will take effect at the end of the 2021-22 school year. The governor said it is “hasty and premature” to delay the requirement before education officials can review the newest test scores.
“As a former teacher and even more so as governor, I believe early literacy is the gateway to all learning,” Ivey said in a statement. The governor said she is asking the state superintendent to brief the public on spring test scores when available and for the Alabama Committee on Grade Level Reading to make recommendations regarding any future action.
“Everyone agrees that the past 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic have been hard on all Alabamians, including school personnel, students and parents. However, to establish any delay at all in the Alabama Literacy Act prior to analyzing the 2020-2021 summative assessment data for reading would be hasty and premature,” she said.
Because Ivey did not sign the bill, which was approved by lawmakers on the last day of the legislative session, the bill died by what is known as a pocket veto.
Alabama lawmakers in 2019 approved several initiatives to try to boost reading scores. Beginning in the 2021-22 school year, third graders would be required to meet reading benchmarks before moving to the fourth grade. Students would have to make a minimum score on a reading assessment or demonstrate mastery of all third grade state reading standards as evidenced by a student reading portfolio.
The vetoed bill by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, a Democrat from Birmingham, would have pushed back the promotion requirement from the 2021-22 school year to the 2023-24 school year.
Supporters of a delay argue it will be unfair to force the requirement on students who were out of the traditional classroom for long stretches during the pandemic.
The Alabama Education Association, the state lobby representing public school employees, said Wednesday that teachers have called and emailed asking Ivey to sign the bill and approve the delay. The group said many Alabama teachers have not received the training required under the 2019 law.
“Students also need more time to make up for learning loss. It is not feasible to implement the law as it currently stands while students and educators are trying to recover from this unprecedented school year,” the AEA said in a statement on the legislation.
But opponents argue it will be a disservice to students to delay the promotion requirement — a part of a broader state program to boost literacy — or that the state should wait until the latest test scores are available to decide.
Republican Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur, who sponsored the original measure in 2019, had urged Ivey to veto the bill. The representative said she was “very very pleased” with Ivey’s decision.
“I am just so thrilled for our children,” Collins said Thursday.
The Republican representative said lawmakers will have “plenty of time” to approve a delay in the 2022 legislative session if the test scores show large numbers of children might be held back.
“Let’s look at the scores,” Collins said.