File-Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin delivers his State of the Commonwealth address before a joint session of the Virginia General Assembly in the House chambers at the Capitol on Jan. 17, 2022, in Richmond, Va. 

(The Center Square) – Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin ceremonially signed the bipartisan Virginia Literacy Act, which is meant to improve literacy development in the education system, with a focus on early childhood literacy.

“The most important thing we can do, as parents, as educators, and as a community, is ensure our children learn to read, so that they can read to learn,” Youngkin said in a statement. “Today is a meaningful bipartisan step forward to give our students the tools they need to succeed not only in the classroom, but in life. We have a real challenge on our hands when it comes to childhood literacy. Over the last few years, Virginia has seen a decrease in reading proficiency and the pandemic has magnified this challenge facing families, students, and educators."

According to a Virginia Department of Education report, more than one-fourth of first grade students were “considerably behind” in early literacy skills at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. This was a 10% increase from the previous year. The report found that the increase was more pronounced among students who were black, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged and non-native speakers.

The legislation will require teachers to gain training in the science of reading, which the governor’s office said will be supported by science-driven professional development. The legislation also requires school systems to provide students with instruction, screening and monitoring of their early reading progress. Schools will be required to share those results with parents and work with parents if their child has a reading deficiency. Schools will also need to provide resources to support literacy at home.

“The Virginia Literacy Act is a game-changing bipartisan effort currently stuck in neutral until the budget passes,” Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera said in a statement. “Implementing this evidence-based legislation, including deploying reading coaches to work with our most-behind students and their teachers, is critical to preparing children to succeed across the Commonwealth. This transformational work cannot start until the General Assembly delivers appropriate funding to the Governor’s desk.”

House Bill 319, the House version of the bill sponsored by Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Hopewell, and Senate Bill 616, the Senate version of the bill sponsored by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, passed both chambers of the legislature with unanimous support.

The legislation gives schools time to implement the new requirements. Every provision in the bills will be effective at the start of the 2024-2025 school year.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.