Dyslexia, compulsory school age bills sent to conference

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Gabriel Austin, Mississippi Today

Legislators at work in the Mississippi House chamber.

The House on Wednesday sent three education bills, including the much-debated dyslexia scholarship expansion bill, to conference for further negotiating.

Legislation goes to conference committees when a bill is returned by either house to the other with amendments, and the house where the bill originated does not agree with the changes.

A conference committee is made up of three members from both the Senate and House, appointed by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn respectively, who attempt to come to a resolution. Separate conferees are set for each bill.

House Bill 1046, which passed the Senate last week after more than two hours of debate, would expand the state’s existing scholarship program for dyslexia students to include students in grades 1-12. It would also allow the per-student cost to follow the child to a nonpublic school provided it is located within a 30-mile range of the student’s home. That could include schools in other states, a point with which some lawmakers have taken issue.

Lawmakers from DeSoto County and the Gulf Coast strongly supported the bill because many students in their school districts do not have access to the in-state special purpose schools in the Jackson and Hattiesburg areas. This bill, however, would allow them to pay part of their tuition to attend schools in Mobile and Memphis.

The House’s version of the bill it passed earlier in the session did not include the out of state provision, only that it expanded the program to make eligible 6th through 12th graders.

The House also sent House Bill 567, which raises the compulsory school age from 17 to 18 years of age, and House Bill 875, which changes the state’s school conservatorship law, to a conference committee.

Both the House and the Senate approved changing the term “conservatorship” to “district of transformation” and the term “conservator” to “interim superintendent.” Both also approved requiring a school district of transformation to maintain a C or higher rating for five consecutive years before being returned to local control.

The Senate, however, inserted the caveat that the State Board of Education may approve returning the district to local control before the five-year period ends if it chooses to do so.

The conference committees have until March 27 to file conference reports on general bills, which would then require approval of both chambers to become law.