A controversial bill that would hold back any 6-year-old who arrives in school at less than first-grade level received a favorable report from the Alabama Senate Education Policy Committee on Wednesday.
House Bill 423 requires that 6-year-olds who arrive in first grade without having had kindergarten previously to spend a year in kindergarten before they can be admitted to the first grade — unless they pass a test demonstrating that they have proficiency in kindergarten level skills.
Children who attended kindergarten the previous year would not be required to take the kindergarten proficiency test in order to advance on to first grade.
House Bill 423 is sponsored by state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee. State Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, strongly opposed the bill.
“You heard me talk about the little people yesterday,” Smitherman said. “They ain’t got no people walking up and down these halls (referring to lobbyists). These kids are some of the little people I was talking about. There ain’t no way that I am going to support a bill that holds these little children back.”
Smitherman said that it was patently unfair to snatch a kid who was playing with his toys yesterday and make him take some test to show that he knows his ABCs and if he fails, he gets held back for an entire year so that he starts out a year behind because their folks did not teach them those skills.
Warren said: “I would rather hold them back in the first grade than in the third grade.”
Smitherman said that the Legislature has not appropriated the money to make sure that these children get extra help.
“Because your folks didn’t do it, and we did not put enough money to help, now we say we gonna hold you back,” Smitherman said. “I represent Homewood, Shades Valley, Ramsey where this is not going to be a problem, but I represent the spectrum too.”
“It is wrong to put these kids in this situation,” Smitherman said. “I am going to be vigorously opposed to this bill.”
“I understand where Senator Smitherman is coming from, but I think it is best that we catch them early and not make them repeat third grade,” Warren said. “Until we change the formula for awarding dollars to schools this is going to be a problem.”
‘We should not be holding back anyone,” Smitherman said. “We have got to address these problems.”
Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, made a motion to give the HB423 final approval. Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, seconded the motion. Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, chairs the Senate Education Policy Committee.
The bill has already passed the Alabama House of Representatives with broad bipartisan support.
Thursday will be day 18 of the 2021 Legislative Session. A legislative session is limited to just 30 days, but the Legislature is not required to be in session for a full 30 days.