By Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY — It took just over 24 hours for both houses of the state Legislature overwhelmingly to override Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of legislation gutting the state’s third-grade reading requirement.
Fallin vetoed House Bill 2625 last Tuesday afternoon (May 27) (http://watchdog.org/145821/ok-reading-fallins-tough-love-veto/) and was overriden late Wednesday afternoon, 79-17 in the House of Representatives, and soon thereafter with a Senate vote of 45-2.
The law was enacted over Fallin’s opposition about 25 hours after her press conference announcing the veto.
It was the second override of a Fallin veto this year, while another two dozens vetoes stood as the session ended Friday (May 23).
The override rolls back state literacy standards, including the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA), that have been implemented slowly over the last two decades in efforts to reverse “social promotion.”
In the words of state Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, H.B. 2625 “empowers parents and educators to make individualized decisions for Oklahoma students.”
Thousands of students who next year would have been retained in third grade to allow intervention to help them reach age-appropriate proficiency will move on to the fourth grade next year.
Replacing RSA and literacy efforts will be a “proficiency team” of a parent, teachers, principal and reading specialist to recommend whether or not students should be promoted. Local district superintendents will make final decisions on whether to promote or retain students, regardless of their performance on a statewide reading test.
Fallin opposed H.B. 2625 because testing data found 16 percent of Oklahoma third-graders (7,970 out of 48,691) could not read at grade level this past school year. Nearly one-third of the students failed the reading test in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the two largest public school districts.
In a statement to Oklahoma Watchdog, Fallin said, “These children will now be asked to do more difficult coursework, and to do so with very limited reading skills. My concern continues to be that we are setting these children up for failure. We are asking them to succeed when we have not given them the skills they need to do so.”
Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, supported override. Speaker of the House Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, backed Fallin and opposed override, as did former Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton and 15 other GOP representatives.