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By W. Gardner Selby July 27, 2015

Abbott vow to build on Bush reading academies passes into law

Launching literacy achievement academies would renew, and build on, a program initiated in the 1990s at the urging of then-Gov. George W. Bush.

Four-day reading academies for Texas first-grade teachers were a good idea when Gov. George W. Bush and lawmakers made them happen, Greg Abbott said on the campaign trail, and the state-funded events should be renewed.

In his compendium of campaign promises, Abbott noted that Bush in 1996 proposed a reading initiative in advance of the Texas Reading Academies starting in 1999 to encourage teachers to implement research-based programs to help students in the earliest grades learn to read.

Through the four years that the academies were in business, Abbott said, more than 30,000 teachers completed the training, each one receiving a $600 stipend for participating. But then lawmakers cut off the funding, Abbott indicated.

Bring the academies back, starting with expenditures of $15 million a year in part to offer teachers $1,000 stipends to help cover travel costs, he said.

The 2015 Legislature responded by advancing Senate Bill 925, by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, requiring the state education commissioner to develop literacy achievement academies for teachers who provide instruction for kindergarten through third grade with a focus on training in effective and systematic instructional practices in reading, phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension, and the use of empirically validated instructional methods for struggling readers.

Under the measure, the commissioner is to adopt criteria for selecting teachers (and awarding stipends, estimated by the Texas Education Agency at $125 per participant per day) to attend the academies, with teachers in school districts with 50 percent or more educationally disadvantaged given priority for admission. The fiscal note for the proposal said it would cost $17.8 million the first two years presuming 25 percent of the state's teachers of students in kindergarten through third grade attend a three-day academy during the first year of operations.

Abbott signed the proposal into law, also approving the 2016-17 state budget, which directed the education agency to spend the $17.8 million "to host highly professional, research-based, four-day Literacy Achievement Academies for kindergarten through third grade teachers with a curriculum focused on how to teach core reading and writing skills."

We're marking this an Abbott Promise KEPT.

Promise Kept — Promises earn this rating when the original promise is mostly or completely fulfilled.

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