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Monday, December 4, 2023

Public school reading instruction overhaul clears Wisconsin Assembly

The way reading is taught in Wisconsin would change to a phonics-based approach under a bill passed Wednesday by the state Assembly, a Republican-authored measure that supporters say is designed to bolster flagging test scores.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers stopped short of endorsing the legislation, but his education department worked with Republicans on it for months. Jill Underly, secretary of the Department of Public Instruction, called the deal “a big step in the right direction.”

Republicans control both houses of the state Legislature.


Only about a third of Wisconsin fourth-graders scored high enough to be considered proficient readers in 2022, marking a 20-year low, according to data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Wisconsin Supreme Court

The Wisconsin Assembly has passed an overhaul of the state’s public school reading infrastructure. (Jordan McAlister / Contributor)

The Department of Public Instruction originally opposed the bill because it required low-scoring third-graders to repeat reading classes over the summer or during their fourth-grade year. That idea was changed in favor of putting those students in a remedial program with mandatory summer reading courses.

Democrats, many of whom said they generally supported the bill, said it was moving too quickly for them to fully understand.

The Assembly passed it on a bipartisan vote of 67-27, sending the measure first to the state Senate for consideration, then on to Evers for him to either sign or veto.

The policy changes would apply to both public schools and private ones that participate in state-funded school choice programs. Students in kindergarten through third grade would have to complete three reading assessments a year, up from just one currently. Republicans already set aside $50 million for new curriculum materials, teacher training and hiring reading coaches if the bill becomes law.

Evers vetoed a similar bill last year because it did not include enough funding. Evers’ spokesperson, Britt Cudaback, said that the governor’s office was still reviewing the latest changes.

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