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Wisconsin Governor's Agenda, for Third Grade

When you talk Wisconsin these days, a few obvious images leap to mind: Scott Walker, collective bargaining, street protests, legislative walkouts, and the like.

But lost amid the drama and demonstrations is a potentially significant change the Republican governor wants to make at the elementary school level. Walker has proposed a 3rd grade reading initiative that will require all pupils to demonstrate basic literacy. It's a policy move that has been tried in a number of states, and was probably popularized by Jeb Bush during his time as Florida's governor.

"Many have noted that from kindergarten to 3rd grade, our kids learn to read, and then from 3rd grade on, they use reading to learn," Walker said in his recent budget address. "We need to make sure every child can read as they move on from 3rd grade."

In his budget, Walker proposes creating a new 3rd grade assessment, though some have questioned the legality of the steps he proposes to administer the program. What's unclear, at least from the budget documents the governor has put forward so far, is what steps the he wants to take if 3rd graders can't clear the literacy bar.

Florida retains students who could not demonstrate literacy skills on tests and through other means. It was a controversial step, but one that Bush has argued has paid off through improved student performance at the elementary school level.

Indiana lawmakers, with the support of schools chief Tony Bennett and Gov. Mitch Daniels, recenty put in place a similiar 3rd grade policy. New Mexico legislators may soon do the same, with the backing of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez (who recently hired a former aide to Bush as her secretary of education.)

Of course, depending on what Walker wants to do, his plan would almost certainly require legislative action. And legislative action is in short supply in Madison these days.

News from Madison: Wisconsin Democratic lawmakers who bolted from the state to prevent a vote on Walker's collective bargaining measure will return soon, one of the missing legislators predicts.

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