Alaska Senate Passes the Alaska Reads Act

The Alaska Senate today unanimously passed Senate Bill 111, an important effort to improve reading skills through increased accountability, well placed resources, and by recognizing that students must be ready to learn when they enter kindergarten.

“Reading is the key by which every other subject is unlocked. Now is the time to rise to this challenge to invest in the success of our children,” said Senator Roger Holland, R-Anchorage, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee. “Our students and their teachers must be given the proper tools to succeed, and we are uniquely poised to provide those tools at this moment. Senate Bill 111, the “Alaska Reads Act,” is the important effort this year to improve the reading skills of our Alaskan students through increased accountability, well-placed resources, and early reading intervention programs.”

SB 111 seeks to improve our student outcomes through several avenues. First, the bill recognizes that students must be ready to learn when they enter kindergarten. That is why the Reads Act establishes a financial incentive for districts to improve the quality of their early education programs by allowing districts to include students of high-quality early education programs in the foundation formula. The bill also creates a targeted grant program for low performing districts that need to develop or improve their early education programs.

Next, the Reads Act calls on the Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) to establish assessment tools, as those described in the nationally acclaimed Florida Model, to identify students that are falling behind. Also referred to as the “Read By 9 Program,” this model then directs school districts to provide intervention services to those students that need it. This “testing with purpose” process will provide real help to Alaskan students.

In addition to the assistance provided to students, the Reads Act ensures that teachers are well prepared to meet the challenge. This bill adds six reading specialist positions at DEED that will work directly with teachers across the state to improve the quality of reading instruction in Alaska. It also requires the Board of Education to establish training and testing requirements in evidence-based reading instruction.

Finally, SB 111 creates a virtual education consortium, managed by DEED. Such a consortium has been under consideration even before the 2020 pandemic, but this timely effort will leverage the recent investments in virtual learning. It will allow students that did well working remotely to continue to do so and will modernize the way Alaska’s teachers access professional development courses.

SB 111 passed the Senate by a vote of 15-0 and is now on its way to the Alaska House of Representatives for consideration.