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State supt. pans plan to hold back 3rd graders

Michigan’s top education official is panning legislation that would automatically hold back third graders who fail a state reading test.

“You don’t automatically retain kids. That’s just insane,” said state Superintendent Mike Flanagan. “This is up to teachers and parents together.”

Flanagan was speaking on the Michigan Public Television program “Off the Record.”

He admits Michigan has a serious problem when it comes to students who do not read proficiently. But he says it should not be up to state lawmakers to make decisions about which students are held back and which ones move on to the next grade.

According to Flanagan, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) estimates about a third of Michigan students are not reading proficiently. That’s in contrast to a report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation this week that estimates twice as many kids lag behind in reading.  

“One way or the other, I’m not going to debate whether it’s a third of the kids are not proficient or two-thirds – it’s a bad situation,” he said.

Flanagan says it’s largely up to parents to create a “culture of learning” in Michigan. He says parents need to read to their kids from an early age to foster an interest in reading.

Finally, he panned plans to use a large state budget surplus to give an election-year tax cut. State lawmakers are considering bills that would reduce the state’s income tax rate. Governor Rick Snyder is expected to endorse some sort of tax cut or rebate in his budget address next week.  

“Don’t give tax relief right now,” said Flanagan. “The schools can use money. I’m not going to get trapped on being in a position where somehow, in an election year, we’re going to reduce the tax load and give people a handful of dollars back. We should target money to the schools right now.”