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Local News

Bill Repealing ‘Punitive’ Third-Grade Reading Law Headed to Whitmer’s Desk

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by Laina G. Stebbins, Michigan Advance
March 7, 2023

A long-sought-after Democratic bill to do away with Michigan’s controversial third-grade reading law cleared final passage in the state House on Tuesday, moving the legislation to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk for her likely signature.

Senate Bill 12 passed 57-51 in the House, with state Rep. Tim Beson (R-Bay City) being the lone Republican vote.

“The retention aspect of this law has been a threat hanging over our students’ heads,” said state Rep. Nate Shannon (D-Sterling Heights). “Holding students back reinforces achievement gaps, racial inequality, and disproportionately impacts low-income communities.”

The GOP-controlled Michigan Legislature passed a law in 2016 — which state Rep. Lori Stone (D-Warren) characterized Tuesday as “arbitrary and punitive” —  that has forced students to repeat the third grade if they test more than one grade level behind in reading and writing.

It has since become a source of ire for many education advocates who say it does more harm than good.

With the final passage of SB 12 on Tuesday, the punitive portions of the 2016 law have been stricken completely. If students of certain ages score a certain degree lower than their grade level, the school will still offer a reading intervention program and other resources to assist the student’s reading deficiency.

The Michigan Senate passed the bill on Feb. 8. Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) introduced the legislation in January.

Several Republican amendments from state Reps. Dale Zorn (R-Ida), Gina Johnsen (R-Lake Odessa), Brad Paquette (R-Niles) and Kathy Schmaltz (R-Jackson) failed to pass the Democratic-led chamber.

Paquette spoke extensively against SB 12, calling the bill “one-size-fits-all” and claiming that there is a lack of data to show that repealing the changes made by Act 306 of 2016 is necessary.

Education groups including the K-12 Alliance of Michigan lauded the bill’s passage.

“We appreciate the House taking final action on this important bill that will put the decisions of what is best for each and every child back in the hands of parents and teachers,” said executive director Robert McCann.

“There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to educating kids, and the more we can do to instead give schools the resources to provide individualized programs to support learning, the more we will be successful in helping kids read.”

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence.