Dyslexia is “near and dear” to my heart. My oldest son fell through the cracks with unidentified dyslexia. In 1984 I helped facilitate the passage of the first dyslexia law in Texas and the United States. This is a very informative article on dyslexia. Written by Julie Fancher, SMU graduate, reporter and staff writer for the Dallas Morning News.
Three dyslexia-related bills are pending in the Texas House, including one aimed at securing long sought-after funding for a decades-old law that requires public school districts and charter schools to identify and remediate students who have the common learning disability.
Rep. Rick Miller, R-Fort Bend, sponsored the bills, which address the licensing of dyslexia therapists, dyslexia testing for students and training for teachers, as well as the one dealing with funding.
This is Miller’s second attempt at trying to secure financing for a 1985 law — the first of its kind in the nation — that requires public school districts and charter schools to identify and provide remediation for students with dyslexia. A bill Miller filed last year that would have done that died in committee.
The current bill would allow districts to be entitled to “an annual allotment equal to the district’s adjusted basic allotment,” the bill said.
“We told the schools they need to do something to help these children who have dyslexia to identify them and work with them,” Miller said. “About 1 in 5 people are affected [with dyslexia], so we are trying to match up a requirement to help these children.”
But Miller cautioned that the Legislature’s tight budget might pose some problems.
“What we are looking at from a budget perspective is not healthy or robust like two years ago,” he said. “This might be more difficult this time around, but we will see if we can get support because it’s there. It exists, and these children have this issue, so we should be dealing with it in an effective way.”
Funding has long been sought to boost the mandated dyslexia programs in public and charter schools. But the way that dyslexia services are provided in schools complicates the funding process.
In Texas, dyslexia services are offered through general education, and accommodations are delivered through Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In many other states, dyslexia services are offered through special education, since dyslexia is identified as a specific learning disability in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA).
However, dyslexia experts said that because federal guidelines to qualify for special education are so strict, many students with mild to moderate dyslexia were not being served.
“At that time, special education utilized a discrepancy model for the identification of children with learning disabilities,” said Gladys Kolenovsky, the administrative director of the Luke Waites Center for Dyslexia and Learning Disabilities at Scottish Rite Hospital, who helped write the state’s dyslexia law back in 1985. “What it meant was that particularly bright children, children whose parents worked with them every night, or children who had tutoring support did not fall far enough behind to be identified for special education — and federal dollars — until the third or fourth grade.
So in 1985, the Texas Legislature passed the nation’s first dyslexia law offering services through general education, which allowed more students to be served, Kolenovsky said.
But because Texas schools offer dyslexia services through general education programs, they do not have access to federal dollars. Instead, to fund those mandated services, districts and charter schools must pull from their limited general education funds. One exception is those students who qualify for special education and can receive federal funds.
District officials say the lack of funds is making it difficult to implement the best programs and hire trained teachers. Numbers analyzed by The Dallas Morning News last year showed local districts were falling behind in identifying and providing help for students.
Roxanne Burchfiel, Plano ISD’s coordinator of reading and dyslexia services, praised Miller’s funding bill, calling it “desperately needed.”
“As of now, districts do not have any extra funding and all dyslexia services are funded through district resources,” Burchfiel said by email. “This bill is desperately needed, especially since Texas has such a strong dyslexia law with mandates and requirements, but the state doesn’t provide any funding support for personnel, training, testing, or materials.”
The bill related to funding, House Bill 868, has been referred to the public education committee. The licensing bill, House Bill 1331, has been forwarded to the public health committee. No hearing has been held yet on either bil.
The third bill, House Bill 1886, was filed Feb. 23 and has not been taken up in committee yet.
Some parents said they were concerned that the licensing bills could be too costly and too difficult and could end up lowering the number of dyslexia therapists.
Burchfiel said she thought requiring a dyslexia therapist license would be “difficult to attain for all public school districts.”
Burchfiel noted that that license would require a master’s degree and at least 700 hours of supervised experience. It currently takes two years, 200 hours and 10 demonstration lessons to become a specialist.
“Realistically, many of our trained and competent specialists can never acquire 700 hours of instructional practice and may not be able to complete a master’s program for a myriad of reasons,” she said. “A more manageable requirement would be the dyslexia practitioner license, which would only require a bachelor’s degree and 60 hours of supervised experience.”
Miller acknowledged that it’s still early in the process, but he remains resolute.
“The issue has not changed, and it’s still important,” he said.
SBOE, District 12