Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) addressed the Alabama Reading Summit this week, held in Clanton. The Summit is hosted by the Alabama Literacy Alliance.

“Literacy is the gateway to prosperity for everyone, and your work to help Alabamians of all ages access this extraordinary tool has, no doubt, changed lives,” Ivey told the Summit attendees. “I’ll cut right to the chase this morning. I know I am certainly preaching to the choir, but it is worth saying again today.”

According to recent state rankings, Alabama has the worst-performing public-school students in the entire country. Alabama’s fourth graders were 52nd in Math and 46th in Reading before the pandemic interrupted classes. Alabama high school seniors have declined a point and a half on average ACT scores over the last few years.

“The single most important issue here in Alabama and across our country is our students’ education,” Ivey said. “Many of you may already know that my career journey began in the classroom – and later in banking and economic development. And today in the Governor’s Office, I am telling you that our students having success in their educational journeys is literally the key for everything we do as a state and nation.”

Employers, including nursing homes, hospitals, law enforcement, mental health providers, manufacturers, school systems, etc., are having difficulty finding suitably competent workers, and the substandard schools are being blamed.

“Alabama is tired of complacency when it comes to our educational stats, as am I,” Ivey said. “And I am looking at our students as more than just statistics. I care about improving education in Alabama because I want to be sure every single Alabamian has the chance to earn a good wage one day to provide for their families. I want to be sure that we have enough nurses and engineers. I want to be sure we have highly qualified teachers to educate those future nurses and engineers. I want to be sure our citizens remain productive. I want to be sure Alabama remains competitive when attracting business and industry. Education is literally at the root of the future of our state, and it is imperative that we laser in our efforts to ensure every kid has the ability to put their mind to it and reach their dreams.

“As a former teacher, I know well that parents should be in charge of making the best decisions for our kids, not government. That’s why here in Alabama, we don’t have state government mandates. We are focusing on what matters – like working together to ensure success in literacy. In Alabama, our students will be focused on core curriculum. That means being proficient readers by the end of third grade.”

In 2019, the Legislature passed the Alabama Literacy Act to require Alabama third graders to master third grade reading before they will be allowed to advance to the fourth grade. That is supposed to go into effect this year, but the State Senate passed legislation to delay that for two years 

“My Strong Start, Strong Finish education initiative has produced the most investments in Alabama’s K-12 system in our state’s history, but there is more work to be done, and we aren’t relenting any time soon,” Ivey said. “For starters, we have to help children begin reading at an early age. Children who enter school behind their peers will struggle to become literate by age eight.”

The state is spending $186 million on pre-K programs and the Alabama House has passed legislation demanding greater accountability from students entering the first grade

“Students who don’t make the jump from learning to read to reading to learn will not be ready to explore the boundless career pathways available in Alabama today,” Ivey said. “The Alabama Literacy Act is one of the ways to help our students – it will provide professional learning in reading for every educator and expands access to high-quality after-school programs for every child in Alabama. After we collect useful data, implementing all elements of the Alabama Literacy Act will be a must.”

The Summit provides an opportunity for learning and networking among educators, state education officials, non-profits, as well as literacy providers and advocates.

The Alabama Literacy Alliance is a networking group comprised of literacy leaders and advocates from across the state.

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