The state legislature approved the Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship program in 2012 to provide a new educational option for students with dyslexia.
This program allows students to receive a scholarship worth about $5,000 to attend either a public school which is outside of their district or a private school that provides dyslexia services. In five years, the program has steadily grown and it is serving 159 students in the 2016-2017 school year.
Unfortunately, only three schools are participating in the program because of various regulations, most notably the requirement that private schools be accredited by the Mississippi Department of Education. Pending legislation this year, House Bill 1046, would make three important changes to the law that would help more students receive the services they need.
Under these changes:
- The scholarships will be expanded to students through 12th grade. The program is currently only available through 6th grade. This will serve students who did not receive the appropriate dyslexia services when they were younger.
- Accredited private schools will be allowed to accept the scholarships, provided they meet all the standards, including employing Mississippi licensed dyslexia therapists. The program currently requires schools to be accredited by the Mississippi Department of Education, which significantly limits the number of schools who can participate.
- Students living in border counties will be allowed to use the scholarship in another state, if appropriate educational services are not available within thirty miles of the student’s home.
However, there is one key component of the law that will not change and that is the high-bar that outlines the proper dyslexia therapy services a school must provide to be eligible to participate in the program.
Here are the services a private school is required to provide:
Dyslexia therapy means an appropriate specialized dyslexia instructional program that is delivered by a Mississippi Department of Education licensed dyslexia therapist which is scientific, research-based, Orton-Gillingham based, and is offered in a small group setting to teach students the components of reading instruction which include:
- Phonemic awareness to enable students to detect, segment, blend and manipulate sounds in spoken language;
- Graphophonemic knowledge (phonics) for teaching the letter-sound plan of English;
- The entire structure of the English language that encompasses morphology, semantics, syntax and pragmatics;
- Linguistic instruction directed toward proficiency and fluency with the patterns of language so that words and sentences are carriers of meaning;
- Strategies that students use for decoding, encoding, word recognition, fluency and comprehension.
These components shall be taught using instructional approaches that include explicit, direct instruction which is systematic, sequential and cumulative, following a logical plan of presenting the alphabetic principle commensurate with the students’ needs, with no assumption of prior skills or language knowledge; individualized to meet the specific learning needs of each individual student in a small group setting; intensive, highly concentrated instruction that maximizes student engagement and uses specialized methods and materials; meaning-based instruction directed toward purposeful reading and writing, with an emphasis on comprehension and composition; and multisensory instruction that incorporates the simultaneous use of two or more sensory pathways during teacher presentations and student practice.
Dyslexia therapist means a professional who has completed training in a department approved Orton-Gillingham based dyslexia therapy training program attaining a AA license in dyslexia therapy or a professional participating in a state approved dyslexia therapy training program to attain a AA license in dyslexia therapy.
House Bill 1046 would uphold the standards that have been set to ensure that every child in the program receives a high-quality education while making the option available to more students, and older students.
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