‘Read or flunk’ law might be worth the cost

Call it the legislative equivalent to “tough love.” A package of bills in the state legislature would force third grade students in Michigan to be held back if they scored poorly on a standardized reading test. The reasoning here is the belief students up to third grade learn to read and from third grade on they read to learn.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan said students who are good readers by the third grade drop out less and are more likely to go to college. That, of course, means better jobs and higher pay over a lifetime. That’s the motivation behind the so-called “read or flunk” law.

With survey after survey showing American students lacking behind students in other countries in most academic areas, there is little argument something needs to change, and if another year of third grade is in order to bring about such change, then it seems like a small price to pay.

Or is it.

According to, if the “read or flunk” law had been in place last year, about 39,000 children in the state would be repeating grade three this year at a cost estimated at $50 million on the low end to as much as a half-billion on the high end.

So the question must be asked “Is the cost of better reading skills worth it?”

We are inclined to say yes. While Gov. Snyder and legislative Republicans have gotten the state’s fiscal ship righted, few in education would argue state funding levels are adequate. As education funding begins to come back, can we afford another $50 to $500 million tab to redo a job that wasn’t properly done the first time? On the other hand, can we afford not to?

While we are concerned that excessive spending has the potential to impede the state’s economic comeback, we also feel improved reading skills will pay off in the long run. Therefore we support House Bills 5111 and 5144 and urge their passage.