The Alabama Senate voted in favor of controversial legislation that would postpone Literacy Act requirements that children who do not read at a third-grade level by the end of third grade be held back and forced to repeat third grade.

Senate Bill 200 is sponsored by State Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham).

State Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said that he had to repeat first grade and believes that it helped him achieve the success that he had in life.

“I have a real hard time voting to advance a child when he is not ready,” Marsh said. “This sends the message that in Alabama we are good with promoting a child when he is not at grade level.”

Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) asked “Where is the plan?” to catch these children up that are being sent to fourth grade when they don’t read on a third-grade level.

“We have already done harm,” Albritton said, referring to schools being closed because of the pandemic.

Alabama has the worst public school system in the entire country with fourth-grade NAEP (National Assessment on Educational Performance) scores showing Alabama fourth-graders ranking 52nd in math and 46th in Reading.

“Those numbers are not us,” Albritton said. “We have got to find a way to change those numbers. We should not delay until we find a path.”

“Twenty-three percent of third-graders are going to fail,” if we do not delay implementation of the Alabama Literacy Act, Smitherman said. “The students have not been able to get in school to get in school training.”

Sen. Larry Stutts (R-Sheffield) said, “We have approached this like we are punishing a child by holding them back. I think it is the absolute opposite.

“Until we have a plan to get them up to speed, we are doing these children a disservice by passing them on,” Stutts said.

“These children have not been exposed [due to the pandemic] to what the Literacy Act was to expose them to,” Smitherman said.

Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville) said, “I am concerned that we are pushing a problem down the road.

“This is going to be a bridge too far for me,” Givhan said. “I know that you are doing what you think is best, but I can't stand with you on this.”

Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville) who is a former teacher said, “I am concerned about if we pass these kids that are not at grade level, they are going to slow the whole class down.”

SB200 was cosponsored by Sens. Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham), Kirk Hatcher (D-Montgomery), Vivian Figures (D-Mobile), and Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro).

The Senate passed SB200 by a vote of 20 to 12. The bill now goes to the Alabama House of Representatives for consideration. The Legislature passed similar legislation in the 2021 Alabama Regular Legislative session, but it was vetoed by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) after the legislative session had ended.

If the state does not delay the implementation of the Alabama Literacy Act an estimated 23% of Alabama third graders will still be in third grade this fall for the 2022/2023 school year.

Wednesday will be day 14 of the 2022 Alabama Regular Legislative Session. The legislature is limited to just 30 legislative days per year in a 120-calendar day period of time.

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