Republican legislators in the N.C. Senate are pushing forward a bill meant to improve literacy among North Carolina public school students by the third grade.

The Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021 would lay out a statewide roadmap for switching literacy instruction from a “look and say” method to the phonetic method. The bill would focus attention beginning with pre-kindergarten instruction and extending through third grade. 

Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, introduced the measure at a news conference Monday, March 29, where he was joined by Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, Sen. Mike Lee, R-New Hanover, and Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt.

“We want the best policies that put N.C. students in a position to succeed. That’s our first and only goal,” said Berger.

The bill covers in-classroom instruction, reading camps, data collection, and other student interventions. For struggling students, teachers will create plans specific to each child’s needs and inform parents of individual reading plans. The bill would also create an online initiative for parents to help their kids, based on the Read Charlotte approach.

The bill uses federal emergency funds related to the COVID-19 pandemic to fund the new programs.

At the news conference, lawmakers noted that reading comprehensive by third grade has a major impact on career and post-secondary achievement.

“It’s critical that we get these efforts underway to help our students who have fallen behind during the pandemic,” said Ballard.

Berger said he believes the bill will receive Democratic support and should move forward in a bipartisan fashion. “I do believe this is one of those things that should not have a political component to it,” he said. “Philosophically, we all want to make sure our kids have the opportunity to gain the skill of reading.”

In 2019, a similar measure passed unanimously in the N.C. Senate and with bipartisan support in the N.C. House before falling prey to Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto pen. In his veto message, Cooper, a Democrat, called the legislation “a Band-Aid” approach.

The bill is expected to be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, March 30, and go up for a vote on the Senate floor before the end of the week.