GOP Budget Eliminates Summer Reading Classes for Struggling 3rd Graders

Apr 14, 2017

A controversial program to  require struggling 3rd graders to get summer reading instruction in order to be promoted to 4th grade is falling victim to  budget cuts at the statehouse.  

We still can't forget those who can't read. -Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink

As part of a massive education funding bill, a GOP-led committee has eliminated the program, after failing again to find the money to help local schools pay for the summer classes.  

Critics say without a state appropriation, the program amounts to an unfunded mandate for local schools.

Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink (R-Fort Dodge), who chairs the Education Budget Subcommittee, defends getting rid of the mandate.

Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink (R-Fort Dodge)
Credit Joyce Russell/IPR

He says a pilot project last summer was not successful.

“One of them was done in my hometown of Fort Dodge in Butler School,” Kraayenbrink said.    “They had 120 students that were targeted, they enrolled 90, and 60 of them finished the course.”   

The mandatory summer program was part of an education reform bill in 2013, a compromise with GOP lawmakers who wanted to keep all 3rd graders back who didn’t read at grade level.

Surveys show that amounts to as many as 20 to 25 percent of all Iowa 3rd graders.  

Twenty-five percent are not reading at grade level. -Sen. Joe Bolkcom

“They need help in the summer,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) who voted against the Republican-sponsored education budget.

Kraayenbrink praises the work of the Iowa Reading Research Center and believes their work will be successful.

“We still can’t forgot those who can’t read,” he said.  “But I hope we’re seeing the low in our deficit in  reading levels due to starting our younger generation out reading in a different way than we were teaching them before.”

A spokesman for Governor Branstad also expressed optimism about potential improvements in student performance.

"We understand the need to cut the program due to a tight state budget, where all aspects of state government have been asked to share in the sacrifice," said Ben Hammes in a statement.   "However, we are focused on the school year ahead and are optimistic about the job teachers are doing to improve students reading skills."