Governor’s veto boosts reformers, sparks bipartisan criticism

Patrick B. McGuigan
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May 21, 2014 2:50 PM
Governor’s veto boosts reformers, sparks bipartisan criticism

By Patrick B. McGuigan | Oklahoma Watchdog

OKLAHOMA CITY – Gov. Mary Fallin has vetoed a bipartisan bill the superintendent of public instruction assailed as a phony “social promotion” of public school students with reading problems.

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BACKING FALLIN’S VETO: Brandon Dutcher of the free-market Oklahoma Council of Public affairs, says Fallin was wise to exercise ‘tough love.’

Fallin said she refused to sign House Bill 2625 because of testing data showing that 16 percent of state third graders, 7,970 out of 48,691 tested, did not have satisfactory reading scores this past school year.

In the state’s largest districts, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, nearly one-third of students failed the test.

The bill, passed 89-6 in the House with the support of the Parents Legislative Action Committee, would have made passing the test easier for students without improving reading skills, according to Brandon Dutcher, senior vice president at the free market Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

“We thank Gov. Mary Fallin for intervening on behalf of children who have not been taught to read,” Dutcher said. “Though House Bill 2625 is well-intentioned and many of its supporters are clearly motivated by compassion, Gov. Fallin’s tough-love veto shows that she understands it is anything but compassionate to promote a child to the fourth grade who is reading at a first-grade level or lower.”

When the bill passed two weeks ago, Superintendent Janet Barresi said similar legislation in the past “failed to reduce illiteracy and deprived students from receiving the best education possible. Nothing is more fundamental to learning than the ability to read.”

Fallin told reporters the measure would have gutted the Reading Sufficiency Act’s proficiency requirements before advancing to the fourth grade.

H.B. 2625 would have created teams of parents, principals, teachers and reading specialists who would decide if third-grade students who have failed reading assessments should move on to the fourth grade.

“The decision about what is in the best interest for young children should be made by those who know them best, not by a state legislator or a standardized test,” David Blatt, executive director of the progressive Oklahoma Policy Institute, said.

Republican co-sponsors of the bill, Sen. Gary Stanislawski and Rep. Katie Henke, both of Tulsa, expressed their disappointment in Fallin’s decision. Rep. Mike Shelton, a Democrat from Oklahoma City said, “This bill would give us an opportunity to step back and use the next couple of years to figure out a long-term solution.”

Students, however, are already free to take alternative assessments, Fallin said.

“Fourth-graders who are functionally illiterate, who cannot read and comprehend ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ are well on their way to joining the ranks of Oklahoma’s adult illiterates,” Dutcher told Oklahoma Watchdog. “These are children whose lives will be damaged, many of them unalterably. Social promotion does them no favors whatsoever.

“One thing is clear. The status quo is not working. As is the case year after year, Oklahoma currently has thousands of fourth graders who are unable to read at grade level — despite the fact that the education system has already spent more than $25,000 on each of their educations.”

Contact Patrick McGuigan at pmcguigan@watchdog.org .