Fiscal literacy needed
All Coloradans have an interest in ensuring that youngsters in this state are able to read. Those of us in the business of preparing and selling a product based on the printed word have an even greater stake in Colorado literacy.
So we were eager to learn about House Bill 1238, a literacy bill introduced in the Legislature with the backing of the Denver Chamber of Commerce and a host of business interests.
We were not so enthusiastic when we learned of the costly new requirements the bill would place on school districts, such as District 51 in Mesa County, with no guarantee of extra funding to help pay for these additional mandates.
To be sure, there is much to commend in HB 1238. Based in part on a similar Florida law, the legislation would place new emphasis on teaching schoolchildren to read by the end of third grade because there are no regular reading programs for students in fourth grade and beyond.
And, as officials with the Denver Chamber noted in a discussion with The Daily Sentinel last week, “there is an incredible correlation” between students who are unable to read proficiently when they start fourth grade and those who become high school dropouts.
HB 1238 would have schools focus on those in kindergarten through third grade who are having the most difficulty learning to read. It would require schools to assess such students, meet with their parents and develop reading programs specific to each child’s needs. Schools would also have re-emphasized authority to hold back students in early grades who aren’t reading at grade level. And they would have new requirements to report on these issues to the state.
The problem is, all these new requirements are assigned to the schools with no guarantee they will have additional funding. Exactly how much it will cost schools is unclear. The fiscal note that accompanies HB 1238 puts it this way:
“This bill greatly increases the responsibility of (schools) to provide reading instruction and intervention to early-grade students identified with a reading deficiency. School-level interventions will require additional licensed staff, literacy experts and reading instruction coaches.” Also, it says schools must establish and manage intervention programs for reading-deficient students, which will increase workload and costs.
The bill creates a grant program to help some schools pay for some of the costs, but it amounts to only $4 million statewide.
Beyond that, there are questions about the state’s ability to manage the data it is supposed to receive from schools.
“They don’t even have enough money to deal with all the assessments they are getting from Senate Bill 191,” said District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz. “How are they going to handle these new assessments.”
SB 191 was passed two years ago and sets accountability and assessment requirements for teachers and principals.
Additionally, Schultz noted, schools are still working to implement the mandates of SB 191 and two other major pieces of legislation approved in the past few years.
As Schultz noted, HB 1238 is “a well-intentioned bill.” Improving literacy in Colorado is a goal we whole-heartedly support. We will enthusiastically endorse a bill like this when there is a clear funding source to ensure schools are able to pay for the additional costs.