READ Act 2.0 builds on success, but with GOP concerns

Students, parents, and teachers celebrated Literacy Day at the Minnesota State Capitol on Tuesday. And while they rallied in the rotunda, legislators put the finishing touches on a new law designed to improve literacy across the state.

Most school leaders say they love the READ Act and they’ve seen results to back it up. This year’s READ Act 2.0 includes more funding and a little more flexibility, although nowhere near the financial wiggle room administrators would prefer.

Kindergartner Alim Johnson’s school has already transitioned to the structured literacy instruction required by the READ Act.

And his grandmother says it shows.

"This past weekend, he wanted to look up firestorm tornadoes," said Ann Johnson. "And he said, ‘G’ma, it starts with the letter F for fire.’ And I was like, ‘That's what I'm talking about.’"

A follow-up bill adds more than $33 million to support the transition and an extra $4 million for potentially paying subs to give teachers time to train in the new models.

"The more tools, the more training we give them, the more support we give them, the better outcomes we get," said Gov. Tim Walz, (DFL)-Minnesota. "Because the goal here is to make sure each and every one of these children can thrive and reach their full potential."

Rep. Ben Bakeberg,(R-Jordan) is a middle school principal, and like a lot of his GOP colleagues, he’s complimentary of the READ Act, at least some elements of it.

"We have to give credit where credit is due," he said. "Really good things, but the amount of mandates that were passed."

He says the bill added dozens of mandates that will eat up the extra funding at a time when a lot of school districts are staring at budget cuts.

Racial insensitivity in educational materials approved for READ Act learning will also be addressed in the new education bill.

Fox 9 exposed the concerns of teachers who pointed out how almost all of the material comes from white authors, even when the voices are supposed to be from other cultures.

The new bill requires the Department of Education to approve models reflecting students’ cultural diversity and students with disabilities.

"When we as a state said this is something we want to do, we wanted to look at things that make sure our children know how to read," said the House bill's author, Rep. Heather Edelson, (DFL)-Edina. "Now we’re finding another issue, and we have to fix that."

But it’s hard to argue against the results seen in schools like Alim’s and in districts implementing the READ Act early.

"Foundational reading skills assessment shows that 61% of our kindergarten first-grade students have made aggressive growth in their reading proficiency since the fall," said Brandon Burton, a teacher and literacy specialist in Roseville Area Schools.

The new bill says schools don’t have to implement the READ Act until Fall of 2025 and they have until 2027 to finish training.