Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill Wednesday that requires kindergartners or first-graders to be tested for dyslexia, a reading disorder that can sometimes go undiagnosed for years and leave children struggling to learn.
The matter is intensely personal for Bryant. He was in fourth grade before a teacher discovered that dyslexia was the reason he saw scrambled words and had trouble putting the right sounds with letters that appeared in print.
“I repeated the third grade. What a difficult, horrible experience that was for a young child,” Bryant, 57, recalled during a bill-signing ceremony in his Capitol office.
House Bill 1031, which requires the early dyslexia screening, also allows a limited amount of school choice. If a dyslexic student in grades 1 through 6 is in a school that lacks programs specifically to help with the reading disorder, the new law will allow the student to transfer to a different public school or district that offers the services, or to get a scholarship to a private school that offers them.
Bryant Wednesday also signed:
House Bill 1032, which creates a college scholarship program for people who want to study dyslexia therapy.
Senate Bill 2776, which creates a ratings system that gives each school and school district a letter grade like a report card: A, B, C, D or F.
Senate Bill 2461, which allows any honorably discharged veteran to have a driver’s license marked with a tiny American flag and the word VET.
The driver’s license bill became law immediately and the three education bills become law July 1.
Bryant said dyslexic students who don’t receive help are more likely to drop out of school.
“It can be treated. You can overcome this,” he said. “And one of my great joys and passions today is reading.”
Stephanie Powell teaches dyslexic students at Canton Academy and hopes to earn a master’s degree in dyslexia therapy. She said by the time many children are diagnosed with dyslexia, “they want to quit.”
“They have a wall built up,” Powell said. “And teachers for the most part don’t understand what dyslexia is. There’s a lot more to it than just making their B’s and their D’s backward. It’s hard to figure out what that is. It’s different for different children.”
During the bill signing, Bryant displayed a small framed photograph of Josephine Henley, the fourth-grade teacher who helped him at south Jackson’s Marshall Elementary School.
“Mrs. Henley … was kind enough and had the wonderful heart of a teacher to explain to me that I was not dumb, that I simply had a challenge seeing the words,” he said.
Henley’s daughter sent Bryant the photo after the governor mentioned her mother during his State of the State address early this year.