The Alaska Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 111 on April 12, which would expand voluntary universal pre-kindergarten and establish a new statewide kindergarten-third grade reading intervention program to address Alaska’s failed record of teaching basic reading to public school students.
Conservatives have tried for years to pass a robust reading intervention measure to address Alaska’s dismal reading scores, but have faced difficulty getting Democrats to come on board. In an effort to build bi-partisan support, the reading measure was tied to expanding universal pre-kindergarten, something Democrats have advocated for decades. Many conservatives, however, see universal pre-kindergarten as yet another way for government school systems to wield expanded control over young children by essentially providing free day care for those too young to enroll in public schools.
During deliberations on the bill, Bob Griffin, the Senior Education Research Fellow for Alaska Policy forum reported to Senators that pre-kindergarten education is not essential to improving student reading scores. Alaska Policy Forum has long advocated for reading intervention measures, and they supported this aspect of SB 111.
But Griffin noted that Florida rose to number one in the nation in low-income 4th grade reading scores well before the state’s pre-kindergarten students were ever included in the testing.
“Florida added a comprehensive reading policy in 2002 that included performance-based promotion as an intervention strategy,” he noted in his testimony. “In 2003 Florida was 28th in the U.S. in NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) 4th grade reading scores and rose rapidly to #1 in the U.S. by 2009. Pre-K in Florida didn’t come until 2005. The first Florida Pre-K cohort was still in 3rd grade when Florida 4th graders were testing 1st in the nation in reading.”
ALASKA WATCHMAN DIRECT TO YOUR INBOX
Griffin also pointed out that Alabama has had the highest quality Pre-K system in the U.S. for the last 13 years according to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).
“Unfortunately, that investment in high quality has not seemed to pay off in NAEP scores,” Griffin reported. “Over the last 13 years Alabama has fallen from 47th to 50th in low-income NAEP 4th grade reading scores. Alaska is the only state that scores lower.”
Alaska is currently the 48th worst state in terms of 4th grade reading according to NAEP’s latest report.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, an Anchorage Democrat, praised the Senate’s unanimous approval of the SB 111, including the pre-kindergarten expansion.
“We have the opportunity to change the course of education in Alaska for the better,” Begich claimed. “By expanding Pre-K and coupling it with evidence-based Kindergarten through 3rd-grade reading interventions, Alaska’s youngest students can start their educational career on a strong path.”
The bill passed 15-0 with State Senators voting as follows:
YEAS: Begich, Bishop, Costello, Gray-Jackson, Hoffman, Holland, Hughes, Kawasaki, Kiehl, Micciche, Myers, Shower, Stevens, Wielechowski, Wilson
EXUSED: Olson, Revak
ABSENT: Reinbold, Stedman, von Imhof
Senate Bill 111 now heads to the Alaska House for further consideration.