Legislation about dyslexia, 4-Day School Weeks passes House; AIDS/HIV Education proposal spurned; No-Mandates-Without-Funding measure shelved

Staff Writer

Legislation that would require teaching candidates to receive training in the detection of dyslexia, and the education of students who are poor readers, passed the state House of Representatives.

Dyslexia, a reading disorder, can be managed through early identification, said state Rep. Ed Cannaday, a retired school teacher/administrator. “We have effective interventions, but first, educators must be able to identify the condition.” To address this issue, the Porum Democrat filed House Bill 1789.

That measure would require educators in kindergarten through third grade who teach early childhood education, elementary education and/or special education to receive quality training in “research-based …strategies for instruction, assessment and intervention for literacy development” for all students, including “advanced readers, typically developing readers and struggling readers who are coping with a range of challenges,” including English learners and students afflicted with “handicapping conditions and learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

Dyslexia is characterized by trouble with reading despite normal intelligence. Different people are affected to varying degrees. Problems may include difficulties in spelling words, reading quickly, writing words, "sounding out" words in the head, pronouncing words when reading aloud, and understanding what one reads.

Two-thirds of Oklahoma fourth graders read below proficiency levels in 2015, he said; blame was attributed at least in part to suspected dyslexia.

“Oklahoma’s institutions of higher education are not adequately preparing our teachers to identify this serious disability,” Cannaday said. Consequently, HB 1789 declares, “It is the intent of the Legislature to ensure that teachers graduating from institutions within the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education have the knowledge and skills to effectively teach reading to all children.”

The bill sailed through the state House, 84-9, and was transmitted to the Senate for consideration.

A companion measure, House Bill 2008 by Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, would create the Dyslexia and Education Task Force. Over the next year and a half the 19-member panel would create a handbook that would “provide guidance for schools, students and parents in identification, intervention and support” of students afflicted with dyslexia.

That bill was approved unanimously by the House, 96-0, and was delivered to the Senate.

4-Day School Week Report Required

Every school district that adopts a four-day school week would be required by House Bill 1684 to submit a specific plan to the State Board of Education.

The report would “detail the goals sought to be achieved” by enacting a shorter school week, the “intended educational and fiscal benefits,” and the “anticipated impacts our outcomes the plan will have” in the school district, “including a discussion of any potential disadvantages that have been identified…”

Opponents argued that the measure was tantamount to an unfunded mandate.

Opponents also emphasized that school districts have scaled back to four-day school weeks to trim expenses because their state funding has declined dramatically in recent years. At last count, 218 sites in 97 school districts have enacted four-day school weeks.

Because of the latest in a series of state revenue failures, state school funding for the current fiscal year is more than $100 million lower than it was last year. In fact, the Legislature’s appropriation for public education for the current Fiscal Year 2017 is less than the appropriation was in FY 2009, fiscal ledgers show. During that same eight-year period, student enrollment grew by almost 49,000, to 693,710, according to records of the State Department of Education.

Oklahoma’s per-pupil funding for public schools fell 26.9% between FY 2008 and FY 2017 – the deepest cuts in the nation.

HB 1684 failed on a 45-43 bipartisan vote March 14, but squeaked by, 53-38, on reconsideration Tuesday night and was delivered to the Senate.

AIDS/HIV Education in Schools

Legislation that would have required updated curricula and medically accurate materials for AIDS and HIV education in public schools was proposed in House Bill 1538.

The original curriculum used in Oklahoma’s public schools was introduced in 1987, but since then scientists and researchers have made great strides in discovering the causes of the disease and developing medicines to treat it, said Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, principal author of the bill.

Nevertheless, the House rejected the legislation Wednesday, 41-47. Supporters of the measure numbered 23 Democrats and 18 Republicans, including Majority Leader Jon Echols, Appropriations and Budget Committee Chair Leslie Osborn, former school teacher/administrator/coach Dennis Casey, and former school teacher Rhonda Baker. All of the “no” votes were cast by Republicans.

No Mandates Without Money to Implement

House Bill 1115 would have barred the Legislature from enacting any measure that creates a new mandate, or amends an existing mandate, “in a way that increases costs” on public school districts unless the Legislature first appropriates sufficient funds to underwrite the mandate “or another source of funding is … provided to pay the cost” of the edict.

However, the bill failed to “make the cut”. HB 1115 passed the Appropriations and Budget Committee but was not brought up for a vote by the full House before the deadline for voting on bills and joint resolutions in their house of origin expired today. The proposal remains alive but dormant.

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