Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed Senate Bill 438 introduced by State Senate leader Phil Berger, (R-Rockingham), as a strategy to improve the state’s signature education program, Read to Achieve.
Cooper cited the program’s failure to improve reading proficiency, its cost and the ongoing dispute over the controversial Istation assessment tool among the reasons for the veto.
“Teaching children to read well is a critical goal for their future success, but recent evaluations show that Read to Achieve is ineffective and costly,” Cooper said in a statement. “A contract dispute over the assessment tool adds to uncertainty for educators and parents. This legislation tries to put a Band-Aid on a program where implementation has clearly failed.”
Read to Achieve was adopted in 2012 with a goal to ensure all children read at or above grade level by the end of third grade.
But after spending more than $150 million on the effort, the results have been dismal. More than 43 percent of third-graders tested during the 2017-18 school year did not demonstrate reading proficiency.
Berger has acknowledged that Read to Achieve has not worked in some parts of the state.
“The overarching theme is Read to Achieve is working in some places and it’s not working as well as it should in other places,” Berger has said. “If something needs to be fixed, let’s fix it. If things are working well, then let’s try to replicate those things.”
On Friday, Berger was obviously irritated by the governor’s veto.
“The governor’s own administration helped write this bill because helping kids learn to read wasn’t a partisan issue – until now,” Berger said in a statement. “The real reason Governor Cooper blocked this early childhood reading program is because of the name of the bill sponsor; Phil Berger.
Berger questioned Cooper’s leadership.
“Blocking a kids reading program written in part by his own appointees is a clear failure of leadership from Governor Cooper and another black eye for an administration floundering in its attempt to govern our state,” he said.
SB 438, also known as the “Excellent Public Schools Act of 2019,” would mandate Individual Reading Plans (IRPs), require teachers to set goals for struggling students, and to communicate with parents and student needs and strategies to improve reading.
In his veto statement, Cooper noted the controversy over State Superintendent Mark Johnson’s decision to award the state’s K-3 reading assessment contract to Istation instead of Amplify whose mClass assessment tool had been used by North Carolina teachers for several years.
Amplify filed a protest, but was denied an appeal by Johnson. The firm asked the N.C. Department of Information and Technology (DIT) to stop implementation of Istation pending review of the contract award.
DIT granted a temporary stay, which Amplify said prevents Istation from continuing to implement the assessment tool in schools. But Istation has said it will continue with its work.
Johnson issued a statement in which he argues DIT doesn’t have the authority to halt implementation of Istation.
But two of the state’s largest school districts, the Wake County Public School System and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, have halted use of Istation in the wake of temporary stay issued by DIT.
Teachers across North Carolina have been critical of the switch from mClass to Istation.
Many of them have also questioned the process by which the contract was awarded, contending Johnson ignored the recommendations of an evaluation committee that ranked mClass over Istation.
Johnson claims, however, that the process was tainted. He contends, among other things, that some committee members breached confidentiality on the procurement process and were biased in ways that tilted the evaluation in favor of Amplify.N.C.