Governor Susana Martinez opened this year's legislative session with a State of the State speech that stressed the "importance of reading by third grade." But four weeks will have passed before any committee takes up a "social promotion" bill.---
State Rep. Mary Helen Garcia, D-Doña Ana, introduced House Bill 257 last month, which would provide assistance to kindergarten through third grade students who lack proficiency in reading. It would also retain many of the third graders behind in reading.
The House Education and Judiciary Committees have not put HB 257 on their schedules. Last year, Garcia's social promotion bill passed in the state house, but died in the state senate, after arriving just 18 hours before the session ended.
Senate Bill 260, introduced by State Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Chavez, includes the same language as HB 257. Both bills call for certain test scores, targeted instruction, reading improvement plans, remediation programs, student assistance teams, and petition rights for parents.
In 2012, the social promotion bill from State Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Bernalillo, required parent approval for students to repeat third grade. Martinez supported a similar bill from State Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Doña Ana, which did not include parent options.
This year's social promotion bills from Garcia and Kernan put parents on the student assistance teams, let parents veto educational interventions proposed for their child, and allow parents to promote students who lack reading proficiency but have 95% attendance.
Garcia and Kernan have left math proficiency out of HB 257. The Lopez social promotion bill in 2012 started out requiring both math and reading proficiency for third grade students to avoid retention, but an amendment removed the math component.
The Senate Public Affairs Committee plans to hear SB 260 Tuesday afternoon. Kernan's bill also has to pass through the Senate Education and Finance Committee before the full Senate can vote on it. Few bills have survived three committee assignments.
State Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Bernalillo, introduced House Bill 360 last week to create a "Reading First" program. It requires instruction based on scientific research, student screening, individualized student plans, professional development, and reading experts. Title I schools would receive priority.
Lopez and State Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Bernalillo, focus on the state's K-3 Plus Program in Senate Bill 378, instead of social promotion. Their bill sets a funding formula, prioritizes certain schools, and sets professional development and assessment requirements.
The Legislative Finance Committee's 2014 Budget Recommendations observed that investments in "K-3 Plus have resulted in measurable effects on third-grade reading proficiency." Martinez made the K-3 Plus program, which serves struggling students, permanent last year and doubled its funding.
Lopez lost to State Sen. John Sapien, D-Sandoval, in her recent effort to become chair of the Senate Education Committee. She remains chair of the Senate Rules Committee and has not yet scheduled confirmation hearings for Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera.
The Senate Education Committee has not yet put SB 378 on its schedule. Before today, the committee had acted on 19 of 69 bills assigned to it so far. Another 13 bills appeared on the committee's schedule for today.
HB 360 will undoubtedly get a hearing in the House Education Committee, since Stewart became chair of that committee earlier this year. Speaker of the House Ken Martinez, D-Cibola, started out HB 257 in the House Education Committee as well.
The House Education Committee has acted on 6 of the 77 bills assigned to it. Today's schedule for the committee and its various subcommittees lists 21 bills. The committee has spent much of its time on the state's education budget.
A poll conducted five months ago for the Albuquerque Journal, which surveyed 402 likely voters across New Mexico, found 75% of respondents agreed that schools and teachers should hold back third grade students who lack proficiency in reading.
The 2012 Kids Count in New Mexico report, produced by New Mexico Voices for Children, a nonprofit that advocates for child welfare, reported only 21% of fourth grade students in New Mexico scored proficient in reading on federal tests last year.