Controversial provision stripped from dyslexia scholarship bill

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Fred Anklam Jr., Mississippi Today

Mississippi State Capitol

Gabriel Austin, Mississippi Today

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves presides over the Mississippi Senate.

The House and Senate on Wednesday passed the last education bills of the legislative session, including the once-controversial expansion of the state’s dyslexia scholarship law.

Earlier in the session, House Bill 1046 drew hours of debate and controversy, but the most controversial part of the bill was taken out in the final version.

As finally passed, the dyslexia scholarship bill expands the state’s current dyslexia scholarship program covering grades 1 through 6 to include all grades through the 12th grade.

In earlier versions, the bill would have allowed students with no special purpose school for dyslexia services within 30 miles of their home to use the scholarships for schools in adjacent states.

Legislators from North Mississippi, specifically DeSoto County and the Gulf Coast, cited the need for that provision in the bill.

However, that provision was removed in conference. As a result, the bill passed both the House and Senate easily and with little debate.

Grant Callen of Empower Mississippi, a school choice advocacy group, called the bill “gutted.”

“We are disappointed that two key portions of the bill that passed the Senate were stripped out in conference.” Callen stated. “These critical provisions would have helped the law better serve its original purpose: to provide proper dyslexia services to students who are not receiving it in their current educational setting.”

The final bill also requires schools to screen students for dyslexia using a screener approved by the Mississippi Department of Education.

According to Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, schools are currently using an array of screeners and streamlining those tests will be beneficial.

Two school consolidation bills are also headed to the governor. One calls for the consolidation of Chickasaw Co. and Houston Municipal school districts by 2021.

Although an earlier version of Senate Bill 2463 also included Okolona School District, it was pulled from the bill in conference.

“Our hope is between now and 2021 there might be an opportunity to bring in the other school district (Okolona) in that county,” Tollison said.

Senate Bill 2461 creating a study commission on the consolidation of Perry Co. and Richton school districts also heads to the governor.