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Reading Legislation Update

Kansas
Governor Laura Kelly signed into law the Kansas Blueprint for Literacy legislation, which would “amend teacher education programs to improve classroom instruction in reading,” adhering to “evidence-based research on phonemic awareness, phonetics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.”

The bipartisan bill would align higher education and K–12 resources to retrain Kansas educators in the science of reading, structured literacy, literacy screening, and assessment tools. It directed the Kansas Board of Regents, which has oversight responsibilities for state universities, to appoint a director of literacy education and create a literacy committee.

The measure appropriated $10 million to the Kansas Board of Regents for the cost of training teachers in reading and preparing them to earn a reading science credential. Centers for excellence in reading would be established at the six state universities to provide assessment and diagnosis of reading difficulties, train in-service and preservice educators through the use of simulation labs, and support school-based instructional coaches.

California
State superintendent of public instruction Tony Thurmond testified in Senate Education Committee about the need for results-proven training for all teachers of reading and math. Thurmond’s testimony was in support of SB 1115, which proposes to fund “evidence-backed educator training in order to address the urgent need for improved student outcomes across the state.”

According to the California Department of Education, current efforts to fund educator training in literacy and math are only sufficient to train one third of California’s educator workforce. SB 1115 would fund the remaining two thirds. “This is an issue of moral clarity,” said Thurmond. “In the fifth-largest economy in the world, and in an age when we have access to substantial brain science about how students learn, it should be unacceptable to train only some educators in the best strategies to teach essential skills.”

SB 1115 includes support for multiple methods backed by research, including phonics, as well as language development strategies aligned to the California ELA/ELD Framework proven to support and encourage biliteracy and multilingualism.

Oklahoma
If passed by the Senate, legislation passed by the Oklahoma House of Representatives could ban teachers from using the “three-cueing” method to teach reading, and instead train them in the science of reading, including phonics instruction.

Senate Bill 362 renames Oklahoma’s existing state Reading Sufficiency Act as the Strong Readers Act and includes the following provisions:

Oklahoma public school teachers “shall be prohibited from using the three-cueing system model of teaching students to read” starting in the 2027–28 school year. It defines the three-cueing system as “any model of teaching students to read based on meaning, structure, syntax, and visual cues, which may also be known as meaning, structure, and visual (MSV), balanced literacy, or whole language.”

Oklahoma teachers are to be trained in “the science of reading to provide explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary, encoding, writing, and comprehension, and implement reading strategies that research has shown to be successful in improving reading among students with reading difficulties.”

Teacher candidates seeking degrees in early childhood education or elementary education are to pass a comprehensive assessment measuring their teaching skills in reading instruction.

SB 362 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 78–3 vote. The amended legislation now returns to the Oklahoma Senate.

Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Legislature is suing Governor Tony Evers and the Department of Public Instruction over literacy legislation passed last summer and the partial veto of SB 971 in February, which empowered the Joint Finance Committee to direct $50 million for specific early literacy programs that were included in the 2023 bill.

The lawsuit argues partial vetoes to that bill issued by Evers were unconstitutional. Evers’s partial veto (Act 100) struck out language allocating money for school boards and charter schools to comply with the early literacy program requirements.

The lawsuit argues the changes “will allow DPI to treat any money directed to it as money that can be used by the Office of Literacy for any literacy program that office deems fit.”

The bipartisan reading bill, known as Act 20, with its emphasis on phonics, is scheduled to be implemented in the 2024– 25 school year.

Maryland
Maryland’s new Freedom to Read act outlaws book bans within library systems that receive money from the state.

The law states material may not be excluded or removed from a school library because of the origin, background, or views of the author and not for partisan, ideological, or religious disapproval either.

It also calls for school systems to create a procedure to review titles that may be challenged but must remain available on the shelves during the process.

The legislation adds protections against retaliation for library staff who follow the law.

A violation of the law could lead to loss of state funding. The law comes to light as Maryland libraries report seeing a 130% increase in formal challenges in their collections since 2019, according to the Maryland State Library Agency.

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