Bipartisan bill aims to improve Alaska students’ reading skills

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, discusses a bipartisan bill to improve reading scores. He stood next to Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, who said the bill would be introduced on Tuesday. They spoke at Turnagain Elementary School, Jan. 15. (Screen capture of a video posted on Dunleavy’s Facebook page)

Alaska lawmakers announced a bipartisan bill on Wednesday that’s intended to improve students’ reading skills.

Alaska fourth graders had the lowest reading scores in the country in a national assessment last year. And 63% of Alaska third graders scored below proficient in English language arts last year.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Anchorage state Sen. Tom Begich announced the bill at Turnagain Elementary School in Anchorage. Dunleavy is a Republican; Begich is a Democrat.

Dunleavy said that reading is foundational.

“We have a moral imperative to ensure that our young people can read at a skill level … that is going to help them advance through school, but also advance through life, give them hope, give them opportunities, and set them on a course for a productive, happy life,” the governor said.

The bill would expand access to pre-K. It would require that students be screened for potential reading difficulties three times a year from kindergarten through third grade. And it would provide additional state support, targeting schools with the worst reading scores.

Begich said that the bill would better ensure that state funding goes where it is needed most.

“Without doing these things, fundamentally we fail our kids,” he said. “And that’s not what we’re here for. Today we’re here showing you that we care enough about kids that we’re going to make it happen.”

Begich said the bill will also make reading curriculum more consistent, so that students who change school districts learn reading under the same guidelines.

The share of districts that would receive state funding for pre-K would rise from 10% in the first year to all districts by the sixth year, Begich said.

Begich said the bill’s language is being finalized and that it will be introduced on the first day of the legislative session, which is Tuesday.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the bill is written so that all districts would be eligible by the sixth year, not 20% as we previously reported.

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