Troup Republicans discuss literacy bills

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, September 20, 2023

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On Tuesday, the Troup County Republican Party brought together a panel to discuss some recent educational legislative changes in Georgia, specifically about literacy.

Helen Rice, former Troup Republican Chair and current State Board of Education member representing the Third Congressional District, helped bring the panel together to help inform residents of literacy initiatives.

Although held during the Troup Republican Party’s September meeting, Rice said she intended the discussion to be informative and nonpartisan. Many guests were invited to the discussion, including more than a dozen representatives from the Troup County School System.

The four-person panel discussed statewide efforts to improve literacy through Georgia House Bill 538, known as the Georgia Early Literacy Act and State Senate Bill 48, which requires local school systems to begin screening all kindergarten students and certain students in grades 1-3.

The panel was comprised of Tina Engberg, of Decoding Dyslexia Georgia; Scott Johnson, Chair of the Georgia Literacy Council, Dr. Davis Lewis, Muscogee County School Superintendent; and Dr. Shanna Downs, Executive Director of West Georgia RESA.

Johnson, who previously served 10 years on the State Board of Education before being appointed chairman of the Georgia Literacy Council, discussed HB 538, which he said aims to bring early literary instruction back to foundational, evidence-based principles.

Johnson said that 82 reading education programs are being used across the state and some are better than others.

“Some of them just aren’t very good. I’m just telling you,” Johnson said. “If you’ve got that many, you probably need to do something that brings our state together to ensure that statewide we address this problem.”

The Georgia Early Literacy Act requires that schools use evidence-based literacy instructing training requirements for teachers and that the State Board of Education establish a standardized method for measuring literacy and provide universal reading screeners for public school students in kindergarten through third grade.

Johnson said reading education is fundamental to workforce development and frankly, fundamental for success in any type of learning. He said it’s difficult to excel at any subject if you can’t read.

“It takes away your best opportunities to do almost anything as productive as you need to be in your life if you can’t read well,” Johnson said.

SB 48 was signed into law in 2019 and established a program for dyslexia screening in early public school education in Georgia.

Tina Engberg gave an overview of the state law that will help identify students with dyslexia. Engberg is the state leader of Decoding Dyslexia for Georgia. She is not only an advocate for kids with dyslexia, she has two children diagnosed with the disability.

Engberg said the language-based learning disability affects between 10-20% of the overall population. Diagnosing dyslexia early can give kids the help they need to learn to read and stay on grade level in their studies.

Engberg said the new program started with a pilot and will become a mandate for schools in 2024.

“The screening portion of SB 48 is vital because the entire point is to catch and identify and serve students with dyslexia before they get too far down the road and are not able to be taught as quickly and efficiently as they should be,” Engberg said.

The dyslexia screening will begin in kindergarten and continue through the third grade, Engberg said.