Feb. 15—BOISE — Legislation requiring schools to focus more effort on identifying and treating students with dyslexia was introduced in the Senate on Monday.
State Department of Education officials were the only people to testify against Senate Bill 1280.
The legislation is co-sponsored by the Sens. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, and Robert Blair, R-Kendrick. They introduced the bill at the request of Decoding Dyslexia Idaho, a grassroots group of parents who have worked for four years to increase awareness and intervention for dyslexia.
Robin Zikmund, who founded the group, told the Senate Education Committee that her 13-year-old son is in seventh grade, but still reads in first grade.
“Fortunately, I was able to get an external psychological assessment done for my son,” she said. “He was diagnosed with dyslexia.”
Dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by difficulty recognizing words accurately or fluently, and poor spelling and decoding skills.
When Zikmund informed his son’s school of the assessment, he was told that they would not “recognize” dyslexia in Idaho. There are various reading interventions available, but nothing specifically for dyslexia.
“That’s when my journey started to create change,” she said. “One in five children has dyslexia. That’s over 60,000 students statewide. At the time, the state Department of Education assured me and my group that “they had everything in place for dyslexia. They told me that 20% of kids (with dyslexia) were in care and sent us on our way. I’ve been pushing this issue for over four years now.
SB 1280 requires all students in kindergarten through fifth grade to be screened for reading skills when they first enter the public school system. Those with disabilities would undergo a second screening to determine how best to help them. The Ministry of Education would also be responsible for providing technical assistance and professional development, to help teachers learn to identify and help students with dyslexia.
Deputy Superintendent Marilyn Whitney told the committee that Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra is more than willing to work with the Legislature to address this pressing issue.
However, the agency opposed SB 1280 because it does not provide additional funding for training or professional development.
Lawmakers cut $10 million in professional development funding in 2020, Whitney said, and have yet to restore that money.
“Putting additional demands on this already reduced funding is problematic,” she said.
The agency also discussed whether teacher training requirements could be met by the 2023-24 school year, as required by the bill.
Crabtree said the initial assessment and training work can be done with existing funding.
“We don’t always need to spend money to solve a problem,” he said. “I think if we give (an agency) the money first, it will always be spent. I’d like to see what they can do without extra money.”
The committee sent the bill to the Senate with a favorable recommendation.
Superintendent Ybarra will introduce a competing dyslexia bill before the House Education Committee today. The details of this bill will be released at that time.
Spence can be reached at [email protected] or (208) 791-9168.