2023 Regular Session

To: Education

By: Senator(s) England

Senate Bill 2809



     SECTION 1.  Section 37-173-1, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     37-173-1.  As used in this chapter, the following words and phrases shall have the meanings ascribed in this section unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:

          (a)  "Board" means the State Board of Education.

          (b)  "Department" means the State Department of Education.

          (c)  "Dyslexia" means a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin, characterized by difficulties with accurate and fluent word recognition and poor spelling and decoding abilities, which typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction, and secondary consequences which may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

          (d)  "Dyslexia therapy" means an appropriate specialized dyslexia instructional program that is delivered by a Mississippi Department of Education licensed dyslexia therapist or certified academic language 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:

              (i)  Phonemic awareness to enable students to detect, segment, blend and manipulate sounds in spoken language;

              (ii)  Graphophonemic knowledge (phonics) for teaching the letter-sound plan of English;

              (iii)  The entire structure of the English language that encompasses morphology, semantics, syntax and pragmatics;

              (iv)  Linguistic instruction directed toward proficiency and fluency with the patterns of language so that words and sentences are carriers of meaning; and

              (v)  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 (2) or more sensory pathways during teacher presentations and student practice.

          (e)  "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.

          (f)  "Mississippi Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship for Students with Dyslexia Program" means a scholarship to provide the option to attend a public school other than the one to which assigned, or to provide a scholarship to a nonpublic school of choice, for students in Grade 1 through Grade 12 diagnosed with dyslexia in order to receive comprehensive multisensory dyslexia therapy delivered by holders of an appropriate license in dyslexia therapy issued by the department.

          (g)  "School" means any public or state accredited nonpublic special purpose school that provides a specific learning environment that provides comprehensive dyslexia therapy instruction delivered by dyslexia therapists licensed by the department providing highly qualified education and intervention services to children diagnosed with the primary learning disability of dyslexia.

     SECTION 2.  Section 37-173-9, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     37-173-9.  (1)  (a)  The parent or legal guardian is not required to accept the offer of enrolling in another public school in lieu of requesting a Mississippi Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship to a nonpublic school.  However, if the parent or legal guardian chooses the public school option, the student may continue attending a public school chosen by the parent or legal guardian until the student completes Grade 12.

          (b)  If the parent or legal guardian chooses a public school within the district, the school district shall provide transportation to the public school selected by the parent or legal guardian.  However, if the parent or legal guardian chooses a public school in another district, the parent or legal guardian is responsible to provide transportation to the school of choice.

     These provisions do not prohibit a parent or legal guardian of a student diagnosed with dyslexia, at any time, from choosing the option of a Mississippi Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship which would allow the student to attend another public school or nonpublic special purpose school.

     (2)  If the parent or legal guardian chooses the nonpublic school option and the student is accepted by the nonpublic school pending the availability of a space for the student, the parent or legal guardian of the student must notify the department thirty (30) days before the first scholarship payment and before entering the nonpublic school in order to be eligible for the scholarship when a space becomes available for the student in the nonpublic school.

     (3)  The parent or legal guardian of a student may choose, as an alternative, to enroll the student in and transport the student to a public school in an adjacent school district which has available space and has a program with dyslexia services that provide daily dyslexia therapy sessions delivered by a department licensed dyslexia therapist or certified academic language therapist, and that school district shall accept the student and report the student for purposes of the district's funding under the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.

     SECTION 3.  Section 37-173-21, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     37-173-21(1)  The State Board of Education in conjunction with each nonpublic school and local school board operating under the provisions of this chapter, may:

          (a)  Extend the school day or length of the scholastic year;

          (b)  Develop and establish a curriculum that is consistent with the Mississippi Curriculum Framework in the subject areas of mathematics, social studies, science, music, art and physical education; and

          (c)  Select, purchase and use textbooks, literature and other instructional materials that would improve educational attainment by students in the school, subject to the approval of the board.

     (2)  The qualified personnel to facilitate the educational process of learning and instruction for children with dyslexia who attend the schools shall consist of the following:

          (a)  An administrator or director with additional training in the characteristics of dyslexia;

          (b)  A dyslexia therapist licensed by the department in dyslexia therapy;

          (c)  Dyslexia therapists in training participating in a department approved dyslexia therapy graduate internship program; and

          (d)  Licensed elementary teachers under the supervision of a state department licensed dyslexia therapist or certified academic language therapist.

     SECTION 4.  Section 37-106-71, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     37-106-71.  (1)  There is established the Mississippi Dyslexia Education Forgivable Loan Program for the purpose of identifying and recruiting qualified university and college students from the state for schooling in education with a focus on dyslexia therapy.

     (2)  The receipt of a forgivable loan under the program shall be solely limited to those students who are enrolled in or who have been accepted for enrollment into a master's degree program of study for dyslexia therapy at any public or private institution of higher learning within the State of Mississippi at the time an application for a forgivable loan is filed with the board.

     (3)  The annual amount of the forgivable loan award shall be equal to the total cost for tuition, materials and fees at the college or university in which the student is enrolled.  Awards made to nonresidents of the state shall not include any amount assessed by the college or university for out-of-state tuition.

     (4)  Upon completion of the master's program and licensure requirements, a forgivable loan recipient who has not been previously licensed by the State Department of Education shall render service in an instructional or clinical capacity as a licensed dyslexia therapist in a public school district in the state or an eligible nonpublic school as defined by Section 37-173-1 and meets the criteria established in Section 37-173-17, not to exceed five (5) recipients rendering instructional or clinical services in a nonpublic school at any time.

     (5)  Repayment and conversion terms shall be the same as those outlined in Section 37-106-53.

     (6)  The board shall prepare and submit a report to the Legislature by January 1, 2015, and annually thereafter, outlining in detail the number of participants who have received forgivable loans under the program, the record of service provided by those recipients as they transition out of the degree program into the public school districts of this state, and the projection for expanding the program to include more participants annually as determined by the need for such qualified professionals in the public school setting.  Additionally, the report shall include a summary of allocations and expenditures for the administration of the program and the total amount of funds issued to recipients of forgivable loans from the inception of the program until such time as the report has been prepared and submitted to the Legislature.

     (7)  The Mississippi Dyslexia Education Forgivable Loan Program shall be administered in the same manner as the Critical Needs Teacher Forgivable Loan Program established under Section 37-106-55 and shall be incorporated into the Critical Needs Teacher Forgivable Loan Program for all purposes.

     (8)  Funding for the establishment and continued operation of the Mississippi Dyslexia Education Forgivable Loan Program shall be administered by the board through a special fund established within the Critical Needs Teacher Forgivable Loan Program.  The board may accept and receive monetary gifts and donations from any source, public or private, which such funds shall be deposited in the special fund for the benefit of the Mississippi Dyslexia Education Forgivable Loan Program with the Critical Needs Teacher Forgivable Loan Program.

     (9)  No more than twenty (20) students per cohort shall be selected annually to be admitted into the program for receipt of forgivable loans beginning with the 2013-2014 academic year.  However, forgivable loans awarded under the program shall be provided only to students who have been accepted into a Dyslexia Therapy Master's Degree Cohort Program approved by the State Department of Education that provides instructional training as required under Chapter 173, Title 37, Mississippi Code of 1972, for dyslexia therapy in preparation of those cohort students for AA licensure by the department.

     (10)  As part of the Mississippi Dyslexia Education Forgivable Loan Program, the State Department of Education is authorized and directed, subject to the availability of funds specifically appropriated therefor by the Legislature, to provide financial assistance for the recruitment, placement and employment of qualified licensed dyslexia therapy professionals identified under Section 37-173-15(1)(b), Mississippi Code of 1972, in order to provide dyslexia screening, evaluation and therapy services to the students attending school in the school district.  Said funding may be used to purchase curriculum materials and supplies for dyslexia therapy services.  Said funding shall be provided to public school districts upon application therefor regardless of the financial need of the school district in an amount not to exceed Fifty Thousand Dollars ($50,000.00) annually, and subject to specific appropriation therefor by the Legislature.  In order to qualify for such funds, the school district shall meet the following criteria:

          (a)  Use licensed dyslexia therapists, certified academic language therapist or individuals participating in an approved training program resulting in State Department of Education licensure to provide dyslexia therapy to students diagnosed with dyslexia;

          (b)  Use daily Orton-Gillingham-based therapy;

          (c)  Have school leadership trained in dyslexia; and

          (d)  Have a current School Program Verification and Assurances form on file with the State Department of Education, Office of Curriculum and Instruction.  Procedures and standards for the application for such funds shall be established by regulations developed and issued by the State Board of Education.

     SECTION 5.  This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 2023.