In a time when it seems no politicians can agree on anything, North Carolina was blessed to have a bipartisan group of lawmakers agree this year that the state must do everything possible to provide teachers with the support they need to ensure each child can read at grade level by the end of third grade.

That makes Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of legislation to improve North Carolina’s Read to Achieve program (Senate Bill 438) so difficult to comprehend. Instead of endorsing this bipartisan effort that would help all students, he instead chose to make a political statement.

Let’s hope this disappointing outcome for teachers and students is short-lived, and that Gov. Cooper can join politicians of all stripes to support and improve the state’s important investments in early literacy.

The science is clear: The early grades are critical years for student development.

According to a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, students who are not reading on grade level by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school, and African-American and Hispanic students are six times more likely to drop out.

Read to Achieve has laid the foundation to address this crisis, and Senate Bill 438, championed by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, made much-needed improvements to that foundation that focused on supporting students, parents and teachers.

The bill vetoed by Cooper would have:

  • Provided parents with access to online resources to help their child through a Digital Children’s Reading Initiative.
  • Increased training and updated standards for teachers to promote early literacy.
  • Provided incentives for teachers – both practicing and retired - to teach summer reading camps.
  • Given teachers more resources to develop individualized plans to help struggling readers.
  • Required development of model curriculum based on proven and successful methods.

These steps would have helped North Carolina emulate learning gains in other states.

A dozen states have adopted Read to Achieve-like policies, and eight have had those policies long enough to analyze impact.

All eight have outperformed other states in reading gains according to the Nation’s Report Card, the only comprehensive, apples-to-apples comparison of student outcomes across all states.

And two of these states, Florida and Mississippi, are national leaders. Florida is now fourth in the nation for overall fourth-grade reading performance, having placed a command focus on early literacy for close to two decades. And since enacting its reading policy seven years ago, Mississippi is second in the nation for fourth grade learning gains.

It is disheartening for families and teachers who want the best for their students to see Gov. Cooper put politics ahead of proven policy. Thankfully, the leadership of Sen. Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore, state Superintendent Mark Johnson and the State Board of Education provides hope for delivering on the promises made to all children — equipping them with the tools to succeed in school, careers and in life.

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Ryan Mahoney is senior legislative director for ExcelinEd in Action, which advocates for education policies in state capitols across the country.

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