Students entering kindergarten this fall had better learn to read if they hope to advance with their classmates.
Gov. Jan Brewer on Monday signed legislation which requires that third graders be reading at expected levels to advance onto the fourth grade. The law is effective in the 2013-14 school year.
But there will be exceptions, ranging from youngsters with disabilities to those who already have been held back twice before.
And it may not happen at all: The final version of the bill makes the new requirement conditional on voters approving Proposition 100 later this month. That measure is supposed to bring in about $1 billion a year for the next three budget years — the three years that schools will be preparing their youngest charges to pass the reading test.
Separately, Brewer signed legislation which makes changes in the system that allows Arizonans to get a dollar-for-dollar income tax credit against what they owe the state for donations made to help students attend private and parochial schools. Backers said the changes, including auditing requirements and restrictions on scholarship organizations, will ensure the funds are properly used.
But lawmakers specifically refused to adopt two restrictions.
One would have prohibited donors from making “recommendations’’ about which student should get the money. Parents are now permitted to get friends and relatives to donate money with specific requests and some scholarship organizations honor those recommendations.
The other would have placed some income limits on students who can get the aid.
About $55 million was diverted by individuals from state tax returns in 2008, with corporations taking another $10 million in credits.
Tax credit supporters say the state saves more money than it loses in taxes by keeping children out of public schools. Foes argue that many of these students would be going to private schools anyway.
The third grade reading requirement was pushed by Rep. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa.
He said parents became a lot more interested in their teens’ education after lawmakers required them to pass the AIMS tests to graduate from high school. Crandall said he expects the same thing to happen if parents know that promotion to fourth grade is contingent on passing the third grade reading test.
Crandall said third grade is the best spot to put in this kind of academic roadblock. He said anyone who isn’t reading properly at that point has a high probability of dropping out of school.
More to the point, Crandall said it represents an academic transition.
“You lean to read K through 3,’’ he said. “You read to learn 4 through 12.’’
The measure is crafted so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to any parent that his or her child isn’t performing academically.
Schools will be required to inform parents when their youngsters not reading at adequate levels beginning in kindergarten. Parents also will be told of services that are available to help as well as what can be done at home.
And youngsters who are held back are given options, including summer school reading instruction, intensive instruction during the next academic year and having the student assigned to a different teacher for reading instruction.
Crandall said the provision linking the new requirement with Proposition 100 was suggested by Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix. She pointed out that state aid to education will be cut by more than $400 million a year if the measure fails, making it illogical to then put new mandates on schools.