Bill to hold back some 3rd-graders has steep cost

Gov. Mitch Daniels’ proposal to hold back third-graders if they can’t read well may have hit a snag Wednesday because of
its cost.

The Senate Education Committee voted 8-3 to advance the bill, which now moves to the Senate Appropriation
Committee for consideration. But Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said he’s unsure whether he’ll give the
bill a hearing because it comes with such a large price tag that he doesn’t see how the Legislature could pass it this year.

It’s unclear exactly how much the proposal would cost, but some of the remediation efforts included in the bill would
run upward of $20 million starting in 2013, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

who control the House and Republicans who lead the Senate have pledged to avoid expensive items during the legislative session.

"With the current fiscal condition of the state, we can’t pile on the liabilities down the road for somebody
else to have to deal with," Kenley said.

Daniels, a Republican, urged lawmakers in his State of the State
address Tuesday to stop "social promotion" — automatically promoting students through the grades — and
ensure that third-graders learn how to read before moving to the fourth grade.

State Superintendent Tony Bennett,
also a Republican, told the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday that he thought the reading remediation programs and other
bill costs could be covered by shifting around existing resources.

"Asking schools to realign their resources
to support this critical foundation for educational success only makes sense," he said.

But some school leaders
feared they wouldn’t be able to afford the programs. Under the proposal, youngsters who can’t read at the third-grade level
by the time they finish third grade would not move on to fourth grade starting in the 2012-2013 school year. Exemptions could
be made for certain students, such as those with disabilities or those who have been held back for two or more years.

The Indiana Department of Education says nearly a quarter of third graders fail the reading section of annual statewide
tests. With about 80,000 third-graders in state public schools, that means up to 20,000 kids could be held back each year.

The bill requires intensive intervention efforts, such as providing 90 minutes a day of uninterrupted reading instruction
through small groups, extended school days, summer reading programs or other programs. That could cost more than $23 million,
the Legislative Services Agency said.

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White said he agrees with
the legislation’s intent but worries about where the money will come from under the plan.

"I don’t know where
we’re going to find money for programs that have good intentions but very little funding," White said.

noted that school boards already can set policies against social promotion. His district has such a policy, he said, and holds
back about 25 percent of its third-grade students.

Finding money for remediation could be especially difficult
for schools if Indiana’s economy continues to struggle. Schools will lose about 3.5 percent of state funding this year because
Daniels ordered cuts starting this month.

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