reading

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School districts struggling financially will soon get some relief via federal CARES Act grants from Governor Kevin Stitt and the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

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Oklahoma will now screen for dyslexia, the most common learning disability.

House Bill 2804 was signed by Governor Kevin Stitt on Tuesday. The measure will require dyslexia screening for students reading below grade level in kindergarten through third grade.

Because of a legislative session shortened by COVID-19, only a handful of education policy bills moved through the House and Senate to make it to the governor’s desk.

Time constraints meant only the bills most important to lawmakers could make it to Gov. Kevin Stitt.

So a hodgepodge of priority education legislation is currently being considered by the governor.

If signed by the governor, they would tweak virtual charter school rules, combat the teacher shortage and take other narrow measures.

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Oklahoma doesn’t screen for dyslexia, the most common learning disability. But, a bill to change that is now waiting on the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

House Bill 2804 would require dyslexia screening for students reading below grade level in Kindergarten through third grade.

The measure breezed through the Senate Wednesday after previously passing in the House. It now goes to Governor Kevin Stitt.

Oklahoma school districts will receive up to $145 million in emergency funding from the federal CARES Act. The money will be doled out based on how many low income students attend each school.

The state’s two largest districts — Oklahoma City and Tulsa — are by far the largest recipients, receiving $17.3 million and $16.2 million respectively. Putnam City Schools sit at number three and could get $4.5 million.

Robby Korth / StateImpact Oklahoma

Sam Keiper fidgeted in his chair in front of a classroom full of Oklahoma teachers.

Today, it was his job to educate teachers at Tulsa Tech, as part of a workshop put on by the State Department of Education for Oklahoma and advocate group Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma.

“I wanted to give a face to dyslexia, what it looks like,” Keiper said. “It can look like anybody in the room. I really wanted to inspire teachers to go get further education about dyslexia.”

On a summer afternoon, Ciara Whelan, a teacher at a New York City elementary school, knocks on the apartment door of one of her students in the Bronx.

Melissa, the student's mother, welcomes her guest with a huge platter of snacks — shrimp rolls and dill dip. Melissa explains that this past school year — third grade — her daughter, Sapphira, fell behind in her reading because she got a phone and spent too much time messaging her friends on apps like TikTok. (We're not using their last names to protect the student's privacy.)

Changes in education policy often emanate from the federal government. But one policy that has spread across the country came not from Washington, D.C., but from Florida. "Mandatory retention" requires that third-graders who do not show sufficient proficiency in reading repeat the grade. It was part of a broader packet of reforms proposed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in 2002.

Alexandra Starr/for NPR

Oklahoma is one of almost 20 states that require third-graders to show reading proficiency before going to fourth grade. That means higher expectations for younger kids, like kindergartners.

This week, millions of students and teachers are taking part in Read Across America, a national literacy program celebrated annually around the birthday of Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. For over 20 years, teachers and students have donned costumes — often the Cat in the Hat's iconic red and white striped hat — and devoured books like Green Eggs and Ham.

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