Companion measure still alive in Senate
Democrats on the House Education Committee closed ranks Monday to block a student retention bill favored by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.
The proposal called for state-ordered retentions of students who are struggling to read at the end of third grade, though it provided for certain exceptions.
Rep. Mary Helen Garcia, D-Las Cruces, sponsored the bill in the face of resistance from many in her party.
A retired school principal, Garcia, right, said the main emphasis of her bill was on assessing students beginning in kindergarten and providing them with the help they need to read well. A last resort would be retention at the end of third grade for those still not reading proficiently.
Fellow Democrats who tabled her bill cited worries about increased costs and a lack of money to meet them.
Currently, New Mexico law gives parents a one-time right to veto a school staff’s recommendation that a student be retained. Martinez said this merely fosters “social promotion,” a practice where unprepared students are advanced to the next grade.
But Democrats such as Rep. Mimi Stewart, who chairs the House Education Committee, said forced retentions regularly backfire and lead to more dropouts, not better readers.
Garcia said she was optimistic that her proposal, House Bill 257, could be revived or that a companion measure in the state Senate could pick up steam. The mirror bill is being carried by Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs.
The bills say that students not proficient in reading in grades kindergarten through two “shall be provided with intensive remediation.” A child still struggling at the end of third would be held back and receive more remedial help.
Parents could contest a school staff’s decision to retain their child, provided that the student had attended school at least 95 percent of the time and had participated in the required remediation programs.
An analysis of the bill by the Legislative Finance Committee found that the state has about 25,250 children in third grade. Of them, nearly 5,600 were reading at “beginning steps” and would be at risk of being held back.
“Funding received by districts is approximately $7,044 per student. For every child that is held back, without additional legislative appropriations to cover the student, the school district will have to absorb the costs of an additional year of school,” the analysis stated.
Garcia said the state would face even greater financial and human costs if students drop out or are shuttled through school without being able to read well.
Most will struggle to earn a living. Some will end up in prison, she said in an interview.
Florida approved a mandatory retention law in 2002, and in the first year 14 percent of third-graders were held back.
Lawmakers in Florida have allocated at least $104 million annually in each of the last five years for reading programs. Garcia said Martinez’s proposed budget had adequate funding for New Mexico — about $11 million for the coming year to help with assessments and remediation.