‘Complete failure’: Senate education bill takes aim at Minnesota’s dismal reading scores

The majority of third graders in Minnesota are not reading at grade level.

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The Minnesota Senate on Tuesday approved an education omnibus bill aimed at improving Minnesota’s extremely low reading proficiency across all grade levels.

The legislation hopes to help reading proficiency rates reach a level of 90% statewide; currently, only 52.5% of students meet the reading standards, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Education.

Less than half of third-grade students meet the standards for reading proficiency. According to a press release from Senate Republicans, reading scores for third graders have declined or stayed the same every year since 2013.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, called the statistics for third-grade reading proficiency a “complete failure.”

“Correcting [reading proficiency rates] must be our top priority,” he said in a press release.

SF 4113 would require school boards to develop plans for their districts to ensure a 90% reading proficiency rate by third grade.

MDE must help districts reach the goal by providing resources and must also create an annual report of districts’ progress toward the goal.

“We have a moral duty to help these kids get back on the right track and support teachers who have been shortchanged,” Chamberlain said. “If Gov. Walz and House Democrats get on board, we can get it done — and faster than most people think.”

Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, said Senate Republicans are “laser-focused” on getting students back to proficiency levels.

“When a student has trouble reading, it makes learning math, science, and American History that much more difficult,” Miller pointed out.

The bill would also fund programs for teachers to learn efficient and successful ways to teach reading to students.

$30 million would be allocated to provide all Minnesota teachers training in a program called Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS). According to Republicans, states like Mississippi are now outperforming Minnesota in reading score increases because of this program.

Another $700,000 would be used to staff Regional Centers of Excellence, which are facilities across the state that provide educational support to teachers and school districts. The bill would require these centers to hire literacy support staff.

Democrats said they opposed the education bill because it only invests a “paltry $30.7 million” in the education system.

“Yet today’s bill only includes one small investment in literacy programming to one nonprofit group. This is not enough,” said Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood. “Students, families and teachers have faced unprecedented challenges and serious disruptions to their lives over the past two years. We need robust, fully-funded schools to help them succeed and thrive. We have a historic opportunity to do what is right by our students, and this bill falls far short.”

The Minnesota Legislature passed a bipartisan bill last year with the largest education formula increase in 15 years, increasing funding by $1.1 billion over four years.