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Discussion on competing dyslexia-related bills continues in Idaho Legislature

According to Sen. Carl Crabtree, co-sponsor of Senate Bill 1280, Idaho is the last state in the union with dyslexia-related legislature.

BOISE, Idaho — Two bills with the objective to get more resources for students with dyslexia are competing at the Idaho Legislature this session.

Senate Bill 1280, co-sponsored by Sen. Carl Crabtree (R) of Grangeville and Sen. Robert Blair (R) of Kendrick, was unanimously passed by the Idaho Senate on Feb. 16. 

Idaho State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra, House Education Committee Chair Lance Clow (R) of Twin Falls and Sen. Doug Ricks (R) of Rexburg, have also introduced House Bill 655.

"I think this is another magnificent example of grassroots politics with people in Idaho starting a grassroots movement," Crabtree said on Senate Bill 1280's creation.

Crabtree said he was first made aware of the lack of resources in Idaho schools by Decoding Dyslexia Idaho, a group made up of concerned parents, teachers, dyslexic experts and community members seeking to get more tools for students with dyslexia in the Gem State.

Founder of Decoding Dyslexia Idaho Robin Zikmund said the group tried reaching out to the Idaho State Department of Education (SDE) in 2018 about how to get more resources for students with dyslexia, like a state dyslexia handbook in schools, early childhood dyslexia screenings, teacher training and more.

"At the time, the State Department just had no interest," Zikmund said. "They said they had everything covered and they didn't know what we were worried about and sent us on our way."

Zikmund said she and her group tried to discuss with Ybarra and SDE multiple times since then, but have been unsuccessful.

"It's incredibly hurtful, and for her to show interest now - I can't even wrap my head around it," Zikmund said.

Eventually, Decoding Dyslexia Idaho was able to speak with the Idaho Governor's Office and meet Greg Wilson, a senior policy advisor, last year. Crabtree said Wilson helped draft the legislation and then asked him to help sponsor it.

"I go, 'yeah, let's do that. It's important,'" Crabtree said. "It's 20% of kids in the country who have some form of dyslexia. We're the last state in the Union that doesn't have dyslexia legislation."

This bill would require all K-5 students to be screened for characteristics of dyslexia when they enroll in school. It would also train teachers on how to work with students who have dyslexia and train those teachers to perform the additional screenings.

"One way of looking at is, 'Prevention is the best medicine,'" Crabtree said. "If we can start on this sooner we can fix it and the rest of their lives go better for them and they can enjoy that without struggling constantly with their reading problems."

According to Crabtree, Senate Bill 1280 would require no additional funds, because the SDE has "$10.8 million in training," that Crabtree believes could be shifted to help with the dyslexia resources and training. 

"After we look and discover if we need additional funds, that may be something [to discuss] down the road," Crabtree said. "But right now, when we implement this initially, we don't believe we need additional funds or people." 

The House Education Committee has yet to hear Senate Bill 1280. Crabtree, Blair and Rep. Judy Boyle (R) of Midvale held a press conference Tuesday claiming Chairman Clow was "refusing" to hear the bill.

Clow told KTVB Tuesday he is not holding it because he thinks one bill is better than the other and is not trying to block a bill. Clow said he is looking to work together on the two bills.

"I think they both have some really good elements and I would like to see us find the best way," Clow said.

"One of our goals in the state of Idaho is to have all students reading on grade level by the third grade," Ybarra said about why she introduced House Bill 655.

Ybarra said she and SDE have been interested in looking at more resources for students with dyslexia in Idaho for seven years, when she hired the department's English-Language Arts coordinator, who also is an expert in dyslexia. 

Ybarra added more momentum came when the department updated Idaho's Comprehensive Literacy Plan and when her Student Advisory Council identified the struggles students with dyslexia face.

"When students struggle with reading, especially as it's related to dyslexia I can find no other way better than to make sure we are covering all of our bases," Ybarra said.

House Bill 655 would also create dyslexia screenings, but it would be for K-3 students. Resources and education for teachers and students would also be added, including a handbook and assistive technology.

"I'm excited about what's going to come forward around getting kids with dyslexia the help that they need with dyslexia and reaching their goals to read," Ybarra said. 

According to House Bill 655's fiscal note, funding would be more than $2 million for dyslexia services, with $97,000 for a full-time state dyslexia coordinator. Ybarra said that position would be appointed to the current SDE's English-Language Arts coordinator.

Ybarra said she and her team were not aware a similar bill would be introduced into the Idaho Legislature this year. Ybarra said when she found out about the Senate bill, she invited Decoding Dyslexia Idaho to discuss strategies moving forward, but they did not attend. 

"At the end of the day, this is the normal process," Ybarra said. "There would be a couple of different bills that have the same interests and we would work together to find a common ground and a path forward."

She added the "door is open" to Decoding Dyslexia Idaho to have more discussions on resources in the state.

Zikmund said at Tuesday's news conference she believes the Senate bill is the best option for the state moving forward. She said the House bill is not doing enough to help students with dyslexia.

"It's not going to shift the needle, it's not what the experts know that we need. It's just more of the same," Zikmund said.

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