The Washington Senate has joined the House in approving a “hooked on phonics” grant program for schools that are having trouble teaching kids to read.
Democratic critics said the measure is too heavy-handed and amounts to a mandate from Olympia, but sponsors said it’s strictly voluntary and provides another tool for teachers.
The measure, SB6509, passed 25-24, late Tuesday and headed to the House, where a similar bill passed a day earlier. Backers plan to negotiate their differences and are trying to court Gov. Gary Locke’s support.
Locke and state school chief Terry Bergeson said Monday that they want the Legislature to provide financial support for classrooms, including a volunteer corps of reading tutors. But they added that teachers don’t need more orders from the state.
The plan offered by Senate Education Chairman Harold Hochstatter, R-Moses Lake, would provide about $15 million for low-achieving schools that apply for grants. The money could be used for reading programs including, but not limited to, phonics. It could also be used for teacher training and for tutors.
“This bill represents grants and does not force you to do anything” if a district does not apply, he said.
Sen. Julia Patterson, D-Seatac, narrowly failed to add an amendment to require grant recipients to use the dollars to reduce the size of reading classes. More than methods used by the teachers, large classes keep kids from getting enough individual attention as they learn to read, she said.
“Phonics is not a magic bullet,” said Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell. She accused sponsors of “going backward” and fixating on rigid, old methods while the state is setting tough new standards for the new century.