Legislature includes money for K-3rd grade dyslexia screenings in FY ’19 budget

The budget approved last week by the Missouri legislature includes some money for screening children for dyslexia while they are in kindergarten through the third grade.  Those screenings are required under a bill the legislature approved two years ago.

Representative Kathy Swan (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

That bill, House Bill 2379, was sponsored by Cape Girardeau Republican Kathryn Swan.  It required those screenings to begin in the coming school year and created a task force to develop recommendations for how they should be conducted.

The budget includes $250,000 that would help some schools pay for those screenings.

Students who have dyslexia often struggle in every subject in school, can fall behind their peers, and even be victims of ridicule because of their struggling.  Swan said beginning to screen all students for dyslexia will reveal earlier which students have it and need to be educated differently so that they don’t have those struggles.

“When we’re talking one out of five people being dyslexic, it’s not something that’s outgrown; it’s a neurological disorder that tends to run in families that people accommodate for sometimes themselves, but obviously it can impact reading and you have to be able to read in order to learn,” said Swan.

Swan said identifying earlier in life those who have dyslexia and then helping them deal with it could also save the state money in the long run in a number of ways, not the least of which being to keep some of those students off a path that often leads to prison.

“Not only does it make sense from helping students graduate from school on time and prepared, whether they want to go into the workforce or whether they want to go on for some kind of additional training or go to college, but it can also help prevent some substance abuse, incarcerations in prison – most incarcerations in prison are related to a substance abuse of some sort – so long-term this is a small investment to make with a big return on family lives and on success in one’s career and life,” said Swan.

Swan said she would like to have seen more than $250,000 go toward dyslexia screenings, but was grateful that the state could provide any money toward that purpose.  She also said the fact that there is now a line in the budget to support screenings increases the likelihood that the state will spend more toward them in future years.

Swan has spent several legislative sessions working on issues related to dyslexia.  She said after realizing that one in five people must deal with that condition, she saw that those people need help.

“We had to do something not only to help the quality of life for people, we had to do something because of the impact it has on our prisons and the rest of society, because that does impact the rest of society,” said Swan.  “So it just became critical and we had to do something, and I felt as the educational community we were not being responsible if we were not addressing this need because it is such a significant need.”

HB 2379 also required additional training for teachers so that they can recognize the signs of a possible dyslexia diagnosis.

“We’re going to screen grades K-3, so if there’s a student outside that – maybe there’s a student that transfers in – so we want teachers to have the knowledge in order to be able to determine, ‘You know, there might be something going on here, I think we need to screen this student,’ or, ‘Let’s try moving him or her closer to the board,’ or, ‘Let’s not make them read aloud in a round-robin,’ or, ‘Let’s give them more time for their test,’ or, ‘Let’s give them an oral test,’” said Swan.  “We’ve got to help arm the teachers with information so they know some simple things they can do in the classroom to help.”

The House and Senate agreed last week on a $28.3-billion spending proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1.  That plan will next go to the governor for his consideration.

Earlier stories:

Task Force on Dyslexia issues recommendations for dyslexia screenings of Missouri students

Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia holds first hearing, Rep. Swan selected as chair

Task Force on Dyslexia issues recommendations for dyslexia screenings of Missouri students

A Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia has completed its work and released recommendations for having Missouri public school students screened for dyslexia.

Representative Kathy Swan (left) listens as Kim Stuckey, Director of Dyslexia Specialists at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, discusses the report of the Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia. (photo; Chris Moreland, Missouri House Communications)

The Task Force’s report to legislative leaders and the governor recommends that all students in kindergarten through grade three be screened for dyslexia and related disorders beginning in the 2018-19 school year.  It also recommends that students who have not been previously screened, and who have been identified as “struggling” in literacy, be screened.

The Task Force was chaired by Cape Girardeau representative Kathy Swan (R), who said early identification of reading difficulties is key to helping children get the education they need.

“By identifying and addressing this reading failure, students will not only be successful in school but successful in life.  If our children do not learn to read they will, and cannot, read to learn,” said Swan.  “This small investment today will have long-term benefits for not only students and families but for the economic and social benefits of our communities and for our state.”

It is also recommended that schools require two hours of in-service training in assessing reading difficulties.  Currently schools are required only to offer such training.

Swan said it is also important that Missouri colleges’ and universities’ teacher education programs address dyslexia characteristics, identification, and intervention.

Task Force member Erica Lembke chairs the Department of Special Education at the University of Missouri.  She said she is excited about what the recommendations could mean for teacher education programs.

Erica Lembke, chair of the Department of Special Education at the University of Missouri, comments on the report of the Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia. (photo; Chris Moreland, Missouri House Communications)

“It’s critically important that this content is delivered and infused in our teacher preparation courses at the colleges and universities in Missouri,” said Lembke.

The Task Force’s report says the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) should recommend a process for universal screening that includes a multi-tiered support system.  It stresses that districts should make clear to parents that a positive screening for dyslexia is not a diagnosis.

The Task Force was created with the passage of House Bill 2379 in 2016.  It required that public schools in Missouri screen for dyslexia and related disorders, and established that DESE would develop rules for screenings based on the Task Force’s recommendations.

Earlier story:  Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia holds first hearing, Rep. Swan selected as chair