Read to Succeed will have positive effect on education

May 2, 2014

After two years of hard work, the General Assembly has passed the first real and meaningful education reform in years, and I want to thank my colleagues in both the House and Senate (on both sides of the political aisle) for not letting this opportunity pass us by.

There’s a reason that the old song about “Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmatic” puts “Reading” first. Reading is the foundation for all educational success. These days, you often hear folks say “Up until 3rd grade, children learn to read. After 3rd grade, they read to learn.”

That makes a lot of sense, but too many kids go beyond the third grade without that critical foundation in place. When that happens, our educational system is failing them and it’s high time we stop it.

First the Senate, and then the House, passed my Read to Succeed plan — a simple plan with a simple goal of making sure South Carolina’s children are reading on grade level.

The plan starts with an idea that should be common sense: ending social promotion for third graders who are not yet reading on grade level.

Children across the state are making it too far in our school system without having this building block for success in place. Is it any wonder that by any objective measure of educational performance — graduation rates, standardized test scores, you name it — that South Carolina has lagged behind for years?

This bill is a step toward changing that, because we know if we make a difference early, we have a better chance of improving educational outcomes going forward.

As I mentioned, beginning in the 2017 school year, a 3rd grader not reading on a 3rd grade level will be retained. Among other changes:

• Working with the state Department of Education, we’ll put a state reading plan and a district reading plan in place across South Carolina.

• Next school year, we’ll begin a readiness assessment for 4K and 5K, so teachers know how far along a child is when they first come to school

• We’ll also give school districts flexibility to provide summer reading camps, with a minimum of 6 weeks, 4 days per week, and 4 hours per day. Transportation to and from those camps will be provided at no cost to parents. The House and Senate both allocated $4 million to these camps.

• And, if a child from 5k to 3rd grade is found to need those summer reading camps, they’ll be provided at no cost to parents.

This bill has been a great example of Democrats and Republicans cooperating on a goal everyone agrees upon, as we worked together to provide for a statewide 4-year-old Kindergarten program, which will be implemented based upon availability of funding.

Also, a great measure of credit goes to Gov. Nikki Haley for her support and promotion of this initiative. The Governor’s Executive Budget funded $29.5 million for reading coaches, which was a tremendous catalyst to get things clicking this year. By providing a dedicated funding source, she brought focus to the Read to Succeed proposal, and led the House and Senate to adopt it in the budget.

In a legislative session that has been marked by controversies that quite frankly do nothing to move our state forward regardless of their outcome, this is a tangible piece of legislation we can point to that will have a lasting and positive effect on education in our state.

Sen. Harvey Peeler (R-Gaffney) is the Majority Leader of the SC Senate.