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House OKs extra reading help for struggling third-graders

Legislation that would expand reading tutoring programs in schools but not require retention of struggling third-graders as demanded by Gov. Susana Martinez was passed by the House on Monday.

House Bill 93, sponsored by Rep. Mary Helen Garcia, D-Las Cruces, heads to the Senate for consideration after being passed by the House 34-29.

The bill won support of House Democrats after removal of language that would have required that third-graders who struggle with reading be held back a year, ending the so-called social promotion of underprepared students. Martinez and her Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera have, since taking office in 2011, called for a change in law to require mandatory retention.

Garcia, a former teacher and school administrator, for several years has advocated for legislation backed by the governor that would have mandated retention for struggling third-grade readers while providing for new remediation programs in the schools. Those efforts were consistently killed in Democratic-controlled legislative committees.

But Garcia this year said she changed her mind on the policy and opted to abandon the mandatory retention provision. The bill Garcia introduced in the House on Monday resembles current law that gives parents a say in whether a third-grade student is held back one year.

That change won support for the bill from teachers union groups and other education advocates.

“I believe, with a buy-in from educators, we finally have a bill that truly targets students,” Garcia said.

Although 29 members voted against the bill Monday, none spoke on the House floor in opposition to the bill or proposed changes to restore the mandatory retention provision.

On Saturday, when the new version of the bill cleared a House committee, the governor said she was optimistic the bill still had time to be amended and restore the mandatory retention provision.

If that change is made in the Senate at this point, the amended version will be required to go back the House for concurrence vote.

“It’s a union-drafted bill that actually makes it easier and more allowable to pass along our youngest students when they’re unable to read,” Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said after the vote Monday. “That sets students up for failure in school and in life. It’s a big step backwards.”

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