Governor Terry Branstad. (file photo)

Tests that Iowa kindergarten through third grade students took last spring found nearly 50,000 of them were below average readers, but Republican legislators are scrapping a program Governor Branstad touted five years ago to address the problem.

Branstad proposed intensive summer reading programs for kids who’d completed third grade, but were still struggling to read. Senator Tim Kraayenbrink, a Republican from Fort Dodge, says a pilot project last summer was not successful.

“One of them was done in my hometown of Fort Dodge, within Butler School,” Fraayenbrink says. “I know I talked to the people there. They had 120 students that were targeted. They actually enrolled 90 and 60 of them finished the course.”

The summer reading program requirement was part of an education reform bill legislators passed and Branstad signed in 2013, but legislators have never provided schools with the money to run the summer reading courses.

“We still cannot forget the ones that can’t read. I understand that, but we didn’t have a lot of success in that trial,” Kraayenbrink says.

Five years ago, Branstad proposed that third graders who could not read at grade level repeat third grade rather than advance to fourth grade, but legislators did not include that mandate in the 2013 education reform package. The summer school idea for struggling readers was included, however.

About a quarter of the third graders in Iowa schools today are not yet reading at the third-grade level.

(Reporting by Iowa Public Radio’s Joyce Russell; additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)