COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Governor Mike DeWine’s promise of bringing the “science of reading” to Ohio classrooms is under threat by a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a literacy instruction mandate baked into the state budget.

The Reading Recovery Council of North America, a Worthington-based literacy professional association, has sued DeWine and the state for a provision in the budget banning the use of the “three-cueing” approach in literacy instruction. 

DeWine launched his “Science of Reading” initiative in February, promising to improve Ohio’s falling reading scores by refocusing educators on teaching phonics and comprehension. Approaches that prompt students to read through context clues – like Reading Recovery – have been embroiled in a debate with phonics-based instruction for decades over the most effective way to teach reading to children.

Millions of dollars will be appropriated over the next two years to promote the “science of reading” in schools, including through providing instructional resources and training for teachers. But the budget also explicitly prohibits the use of the “three-cueing approach,” something the Reading Recovery Council of North America argues is beyond the reach of budget legislation and too vague to be constitutional.

“In attempting to set classroom educational policy, the legislation displays a complete misunderstanding of literacy acquisition, which is best left to practitioners and has no place hidden within a 6,000-page budget bill,” the council’s executive director, Billy Molasso, said in a statement.

Similar to a lawsuit filed to block the overhaul of the Department of Education, the Reading Recovery Council said that adding the “science of reading” mandate to the budget violates a single-subject rule for legislation and undermines the state board of education’s powers. 

While funding for literacy programs falls under the purview of an appropriations bill, the Reading Recovery Council argued that mandating the use of one method to teach reading is a policy decision beyond the scope of the budget. Decisions about policy are also under the authority of the state board of education, which was created by a constitutional amendment in 1953, the Reading Recovery Council argued. 

“Three-cueing” is not defined in the budget provision. The Reading Recovery Council claims the lack of definition, in addition to a lack of examples of core instructional materials that encompass the approach or the “science of reading,” renders the mandate unconstitutionally vague.

“In defining the ‘science of reading’ as an unstated strategy that excludes the ‘three-cueing’ approach, the Literacy Curriculum Statute is predicated on undefined, ambiguous, and indecipherable terms,” the complaint reads. 

In a statement, a spokesperson for DeWine’s office said the governor is “disappointed” in the lawsuit.

“The evidence is clear that the Science of Reading is the best way for kids to learn how to read and sharpen their reading skills,” the spokesperson said. “Those who filed this lawsuit do not have the best interests of Ohio children in mind.”

The group has asked for a preliminary injunction on the block against the “three-cueing” approach and the eventual severance of the provision from the rest of the budget.