Dyslexia pilot program gets initial nod from subcommitee


Michael A. Kruse

Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY – A South Jordan Republican wants to provide teachers and schools with the tools to help students with dyslexia earlier in their education.

Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, presented SB117 to the Senate Education Committee late last week.

The bill would create a 3-year pilot program, in which local schools can apply for grant money to be used for professional development. Such training programs have been tested and proven successful. The bill would cost $750,000 to be spread among the schools with $100k being set aside to pay for a third party evaluation of the pilot program.IMG_2412

Approval would be contingent on a school showing both a plan for early intervention and a commitment to follow through.

Eighty percent of learning disabled students have dyslexia, said Osmond. The problem is students don’t usually get diagnosed until the 3rd or 4th grade, and studies have shown children have better outcomes with earlier detection, he said.

Osmond said Utah’s special education spending is skyrocketing compared to other states, and he suggested that may be in part, because the other states have used early intervention to reduce later spending.

Natalie Pollard, Layton, brought her son 3rd-grade son, Aran, with her as she testified before the committee. Her son had difficulty reading, she said, but she assumed that school would inform if they thought Aran had dyslexia. Finally her son’s first grade teacher, who was a specialist in the field, caught the signs.

“I was grateful to know the reasons for his struggle, but I wondered what to do next,” Pollard said. With the help of the teacher she was able to address Aran’s dyslexia. Now, he loves to read. “But I wonder, what would happened if we wouldn’t of had a specialist?” Pollard said. Pollard expressed support for the bill, citing parents who might not be as fortunate as she was.

Shanz Leonelli, Principal of East Elementary in Tooele School District, testified that using early intervention programs in his school has helped students with difficulty reading reach their grade reading level. Since his school started early intervention they have moved 72 of 173 students into to grade reading level, he said.

There was also some opposition to the bill. Pete Cannon, a member of the Davis County School Board, suggested that the bill shows a mistrust of local school boards to make decisions for children. “If you vote for this bill it implies that you don’t think local school boards can think creatively,” he said.

While Sen. Osmond agreed that the bill could show a lack of trust in the school boards, he added that most schools haven’t been doing early intervention and it has created the need for the state to step in.

Despite limited opposition, the bill passed through committee with a favorable recommendation and unanimous vote. The bill will now head to the senate floor where Osmond said he doesn’t expect a big fight.

“There will be some senators who won’t like it, but it will pass,” he said.

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