“First grade readiness” fails to come to vote on Alabama Legislature’s final day

By: - June 7, 2023 6:59 am
Rep. Pebblin Warren at a podium

Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, beings debate on a first-grade readiness bill in the Alabama House of Representatives on April 18, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

A bill that would have required students to show “first-grade readiness” before moving to that grade died on the final day of the 2023 session on Tuesday. 

HB43, sponsored by Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, would have required students to show readiness by completing kindergarten or an assessment.

“This isn’t really politics for me,” Warren said. “This is something from my heart.”

Warren has filed this bill since 2019, and it has made it past the Senate committee the past three years. This year, the bill had the support of Gov. Kay Ivey and Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur as the session began. But Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, expressed concern about the potential impact of the legislation on people in poor neighborhoods.

“He told them that if it came up, they were going to have to get a chain on a tractor to pull him from the mic,” Warren said. “And then Thursday, he told them that if the bill came on the calendar, he was going to burn the building down.” 

Smitherman told reporters Tuesday that he wanted to see guarantees for kindergarten funding. He also wanted mandatory  kindergarten; new classrooms and guaranteed transportation for kindergarten students; assistance to students and more teachers.

“We’re sitting here with excess of $750 million in the Education Trust Fund,” he said. “I don’t think it should be a big strain.”

Smitherman said that not all students have access to kindergarten.

“So, what are we going to do to students who can’t go?” said Smitherman.

Warren said they have discussed getting together in September to come up with a bill they both agree on and pass. She said the bill effectively makes kindergarten mandatory, but she just didn’t write it in the bill.

“Some of our Republican colleagues don’t want anybody to mandate anything to them,” she said. “So we want to work on it from their perspective.” 

Warren said they would try to secure a line-item appropriation in the Education Trust Fund budget for kindergarten. 

Alabama, like most states, does not require kindergarten. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 20 states, including Washington D.C., mandates kindergarten attendance. 

Alabama does not require all schools to offer kindergarten, according to Alabama State Department of Education Communications Director Michael Sibley.

A message for comment was left with the governor’s office on Tuesday.

Collins came out in support of the bill early in the session. The bill passed her committee on April 5 and the House floor on Apr. 18. The bill didn’t appear in Senate committee until over a month later on May 24. It never appeared on the Senate floor.

Warren said the bill will return next year.

“I can leave here with a sense of peace because I’ve done what I can do,” she said. 


Note: This story has been updated with information from ALSDE Communications Director Michael Sibley Wednesday afternoon.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Jemma Stephenson
Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.