A House bill that calls for holding back some third-grade students who don’t show proficiency in reading at their grade level cleared its first hurdle Tuesday after the House Education Committee recommended approval of the measure in a 6-4 vote along party lines.
This followed a 6-6 vote that momentarily stalled the bill. Both times, Republicans voted to move the bill forward, and Democrats voted to kill it. According to a witness, two Democrats left the room after the initial vote and were not present for the second round.
Introduced by Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, the bill includes so many exceptions that, ultimately, it would apply to only about 2,000 of the state’s roughly 25,000 third-graders. With the bill’s exceptions, thousands of students who score in the lowest levels on proficiency tests would continue to move forward.
The bill also includes a number of intervention procedures designed to identify struggling students and help them before they are retained, but those caveats didn’t win over Democratic lawmakers on the House Education Committee.
“This is a punitive approach … with retention as the hammer,” said Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque.
Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, used even harsher language, telling Youngblood and the assembly, “This bill is all about politics … and all about promises made to the Republican National Committee.”
Her reference was to Gov. Susana Martinez’s continued efforts to pass a reading retention bill for third-graders, an educational reform policy favored by many Republicans around the nation.
Youngblood countered that many Democrats, including President Barack Obama and former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, also support retention for students who are not prepared to move on to the next grade.
Under current New Mexico law, parents can override an educator’s recommendation to hold back a student. Since taking office in 2011, Martinez has unsuccessfully tried to change the law so that the state has that right.
Over the years, various similar bills proposed by Republican lawmakers have stalled or died in the legislative session. Some have been altered with added exceptions — including for special-education students and kids who have already been held back at least once.
For example, although state data indicate that some 6,000 third-graders were at the lowest level of proficiency a year ago, with all the exceptions in Youngblood’s proposed retention measure, about 4,000 of them would still move forward.
Some Democratic lawmakers have deemed the bill the “third-grade flunking bill,” a term Youngblood said she finds offensive. She said students who cannot read by fourth grade are more likely to drop out before graduating and have problems catching up in school over the years.
Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or [email protected].