Chris Schulz Published

Third Grade Success Act In Doubt After Legislative Shuffle

Sen. Amy Grady sits in her seat on the Senate floor March 8, 2023 wearing a royal blue blazer with the sleeves rolled up.
Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason, on the Senate floor March 8, 2023.
Will Price/WV Legislative Photography

Improving early childhood literacy has been a key objective of this year’s session. The renewed focus came after state and national test results in 2022 showed steep declines in reading and math scores. Coming into the final week, a plan to boost reading in grades K-3 seemed all but final, until a few minutes in a House of Delegates committee Monday afternoon. 

Senate Bill 274 was introduced in the first week of the session. The bill, titled the Third Grade Success Act, would enact several changes to how literacy is taught from kindergarten through third grade, which is considered a crucial period for lifetime reading skills.

After some discussions over the potential cost of the bill’s proposal to increase the number of assistant teachers and reading coaches in classrooms, the Senate passed it.

Just a few weeks ago, when the Senate presented its budget, it included more than $30 million for the bill’s implementation, and everything seemed set for the Third Grade Success Act to sail past the finish line.

That was until the House Education Committee took up the bill Monday afternoon. 

Senate Education Chair Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason, said she’s still trying to make sense of the House committee’s action.

“[Senate Bill] 274, that had the original Third Grade Success Act, actually was, I want to say gutted, and the House Education [Committee] put the dyslexia bill that’s sitting in my committee currently, [it] was put in place of all the other language,” Grady said.

Grady said that while addressing dyslexia is important, the Third Grade Success Act aims to improve the state’s basic literacy and address every student. Grady and her colleagues in the Senate Education Committee have reinserted the language of early childhood literacy, as well as dyslexia intervention, into another bill – House Bill 3035 – in the hopes that the program can still pass this session.

“We were understanding that 274 was going to be the literacy bill of the session,” Grady said. “That was changed all of a sudden, for some reason, there was no discussion in committee, I don’t know why, I haven’t been given a reason.” 

“I don’t care if it’s under 274, or if it’s under 3035, but the language that was in the Third Grade Success Act, which is Senate Bill 274, is really important for our students and our teachers in our K through 3 classrooms,” she continued. “It would be unfortunate if we lost that due to some politics. The most important thing to me is that, that language passes so that we can start implementing that in our classrooms.”

House Education Chair Del. Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said the change is simply part of the legislative process, especially with different bills vying to achieve similar goals.

“This happens all the time at the end of the session, that you look at different competing versions, look at who wants to move what where, and come up with the best option that we can do,” he said. “But I’m sure at the end of the day we’ll probably get something accomplished with that.”

Both legislators are hopeful that a path forward can be found to help West Virginia’s students, but nothing is guaranteed until midnight Saturday.

“I’m fairly confident it’s just, at the end of the day at midnight on Saturday night, we have to have a product that goes out,” Ellington said. “If we don’t, then obviously that would not be a good thing. You still have to have the governor sign it. So until it’s all done, and it’s signed into law, it’s still just the process right now.”