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House votes 36-27 to approve high-profile reading and retention bill

SANTA FE, N.M. — A bill aimed at ending the practice of “social promotion” in public schools is on its way to the New Mexico Senate, after passing the House tonight on a 36-27 vote.

Just like a vote on a similar measure last year, the vote broke down largely along party lines. Rep. Dona Irwin of Deming was the lone House Democrat to vote “yes” on the legislation; all House Republicans present in the chamber also voted in support.

During tonight’s debate, critics of House Bill 67 described the measure as “mandatory flunking,” a term that was objected to by Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, the bill’s sponsor.

House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said third-graders who cannot read proficiently should not be required by the state to repeat the grade level.

“If a parent thinks that advancing a child to the next grade level is the best option for the child, that should be the end of the conversation,” Egolf said.

But Youngblood pointed out the mandatory retention is just one part of her bill. The legislation also calls for reading assistance to be provided for struggling students.

Gov. Susana Martinez has pushed for the legislation to since taking office in 2011, and a spokesman for the two-term Republican governor indicated the push will continue.

“This bill will end the failed practice of social promotion, which passes our kids onto the next grade even when they cannot read,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said. “The governor calls on the Senate to stop playing politics with New Mexico’s children and give this bill an up or down vote on the floor.”

However, the legislation will likely face long odds in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Last year’s reading and retention bill stalled in the Senate Public Affairs Committee.