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Dyslexia screening bills head to Michigan House

Michigan capitol building in Lansing.
Steve Carmody
Michigan Public
Michigan capitol building in Lansing.

Legislation to screen Michigan school children for dyslexia passed the state Senate Tuesday.

Under the bills, public school students would undergo screenings at least three times a year from kindergarten through third grade. Teachers would also need to undergo training on dyslexia.

Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) co-sponsored the package. He said catching dyslexia and other reading troubles sooner could help address literacy concerns and causes of behavioral problems in the classroom.

“One of the things that I heard when I was working on this that was so powerful that I included in my speech, is when an individual said, ‘You know, when I was struggling with dyslexia in elementary school, I acted out a lot. I caused a lot of disciplinary problems. Because it was easier to be the bad kid than to be the stupid kid,’” Irwin told reporters after the Senate vote.

Irwin’s bill in the package would require districts to provide multi-tiered support systems to children who show signs of dyslexia. That could include one-on-one instruction, depending on a student’s needs.

The legislation would start requiring the dyslexia screenings by the 2027-2028 school year.

Ahead of the Senate vote Tuesday, Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly) tried unsuccessfully to move that timeline up. She said the fall 2027 deadline is too far away.

“We heard compelling testimony in committee of the lifelong impacts that reading difficulties have on people in our state. How many more children must wait for us to act?” Johnson said during a floor speech.

Senate Education Committee chair and package co-sponsor Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia), however, said schools and other stakeholders need the extra time to adjust.

“It will give the benchmark testing companies more time to make this test work, so we don’t have duplicative, redundant testing. And it gives teachers more time to get trained,” Polehanki said.

The two-bill package passed the state Senate by 37-1 and 38-0 votes.

But during the committee process, lawmakers heard from some school groups concerned with the legislation.

In a February 13 letter to the Senate Education Committee, Jennifer Smith of the Michigan Association of School Boards shared concerns about what the bills would mean for school resources.

“[T]hese bills impose significant new requirements on our already overburdened and understaffed educators. At a time when we are striving to expand our teaching pool, adding further responsibilities to our current teachers and literacy coaches will only harm our efforts,” Smith wrote.

To that point, both Irwin and Polehanki said they empathize. But they argued schools are starting to see more resources come in through increases in education spending in the state budget. Meanwhile, they said the dyslexia screenings and trainings could fit neatly over existing testing schedules and required training.

The bills now head to the state House of Representatives.

Colin Jackson is a reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.