Alabama Senate Passes First Grade Readiness Bill, Awaits Final House Approval

The bill, if signed by Gov. Kay Ivey, will align Alabama with a minority of states that require kindergarten.

Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, speaks during a debate in the Alabama House of Representatives on gambling legislation on Feb. 15, 2024 in the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Alabama. The House approved a constitutional amendment that would create a state lottery and allowing casino gambling and sports wagering. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

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The Alabama Legislature Wednesday gave final approval to a bill requiring children to complete kindergarten or an equivalent program after years of efforts from supporters.

HB 113, sponsored by Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, would require students to finish kindergarten or pass a test that shows first grade readiness.

The bill passed 35-0. It would align Alabama with a minority of states that require kindergarten. As of 2020, 19 states and the District of Columbia require kindergarten, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“I think now that we are fully implementing the Literacy Act that we need to do everything we can for these children early to give them a good foundation, so that they’re not coming into first grade already behind,” said Sen. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva, the chair of the Senate Education Policy committee and Senate sponsor of the bill.

Warren, who is currently in the hospital, said in a phone interview Wednesday that she was happy that it had advanced after seven years.

“This has been a battle I’ve been fighting and I’ve been fighting for the kids, because we got to find ways of making sure we can expose and educate our kids at early ages,” she said. “So we don’t have to wait until they get to the third grade to say that they can’t read.”

The bill passed after Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, a vocal opponent of the legislation in previous years, amended the legislation to create a schedule of assessments.

Under the legislation, a student entering first grade in the 2025-26 school year will not be excluded from enrollment, but will take an assessment at the start of the school year and in the second semester to determine any deficiencies and allow resources to those who perform below standards..

For the 2026-27 school year, a student will take the assessment to determine readiness for enrollment and will also take the second semester assessment with the available resources.

The State Department of Education will also develop an informational campaign with priority given to areas with the lowest numbers of kindergarten enrollment.

“I will say that I think it may be an opportunity for us to catch whatever situations that may exist on the front end,” he said.

The House of Representatives has approved the legislation multiple times, but Smitherman had blocked it in the Senate.

Warren said she has not had a chance to receive a report on the added amendment yet. She said she wished that the bill would be starting next year.

Chesteen told the Reflector before the start of the session that the bill was a priority for the Republican caucus.

The bill had received support from the Governor’s Commission on Teaching and Learning, but Smitherman had still not vouched support as of August.

Alabama lawmakers have placed more emphasis on early education in the last decade.

The Legislature in 2019 created the Literacy Act, which requires students to be reading on grade level by the end of third grade, or risk retention.

The Alabama Numeracy Act, passed in 2022, aims to increase math scores in the state.

The Legislature has also increased funding for the state’s award-winning pre-kindergarten program, which consistently receives high marks.

The bill moves to the House of Representatives for concurrence in Senate changes or a conference committee.

Alabama Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alabama Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Brian Lyman for questions: info@alabamareflector.com. Follow Alabama Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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