Rewritten literacy proposal emerges

The House Education Committee introduced a new, rewritten literacy bill on Friday designed to replace a similar piece of legislation that sparked concerns among lawmakers.

This session’s discussion of literacy began on Day One, when Gov. Butch Otter used his State of the State address to call on lawmakers to spent $10.7 million on literacy support for struggling readers in grades K-3.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra called for investing $5 million in literacy support this year.

On Feb. 12, House Education voted to hold the original literacy policy bill until Thursday. On Wednesday, the committee picked the bill up a day early, only to hold it again until Friday. Within the span of three hours on Wednesday, lawmakers on the House floor also held a different literacy bill until Feb. 24 — saying both bills should be considered concurrently.

The bill introduced Friday is a rewritten version of House Bill 450 — the bill that had been held up Feb. 12 and Wednesday. It still is designed to provide supplemental literacy instruction for students who score below grade-level benchmarks on their reading tests.

Like its predecessor, the new bill provides for a minimum of 60 hours of supplemental reading instruction for students who score at the lowest of the three possible levels on the reading tests. For students who score at the middle level — which is still below grade level — a minimum of 30 hours of supplemental literacy instruction would be available.

The new bill also includes some accountability measures and goals that were not included in the original. The new bill states the extra instruction must take the form of “proven effective research based substantial intervention.”

The new bill also calls on the State Board of Education to develop rules that will help educators and state officials track student progress.

“At a minimum, such rules shall include student trajectory growth to proficiency benchmarks and a timeline for reaching such benchmarks,” the bill states.

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Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale

Those changes appeared to alleviate some of the concerns lawmakers expressed over the past week about accountability measures within the original literacy proposal.

“Thank you very much for these changes,” Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale said. “They make a real difference so that we will have students actually making some progress that we can see.”

The new bill was pushed by the State Board of Education, and is still designed as a policy bill that would enact either of the literacy proposals put forth by Otter or Ybarra.

The new literacy bill will return to House Education for a full hearing, likely next week. The House Education Committee is aware that the Join Finance-Appropriations Committee is looking to set the public school budget Feb. 29, and bills with costs attached to them traditionally must advance through at least one or both of the Legislature’s chambers before funding would be written into a budget.

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Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle

“We’re trying to as quickly possible turn some of this legislation around so we can hear it,” Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, told his committee.

In a related move, the committee voted to hold the previous literacy bill, House Bill 450, at DeMordaunt’s discretion. That move signals that the new bill introduced Friday is the one committee members want to move forward.