A new state law requires school districts in Texas to provide special education services to students with dyslexia and heightened the requirements for who can evaluate them.

While proponents of the law say the change is designed to improve services for students, Leander ISD officials and some educational organizations have expressed concerns that the changes may put a strain on staff members and result in additional costs for districts.

The overview

House Bill 3928, passed in 2023, removed the ability for districts to provide instruction to dyslexic students through a Section 504 plan for students with disabilities.

By the end of the 2024-25 school year, districts must transition all students needing dyslexia instruction to an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, said Kimberly Waltmon, assistant superintendent of special programs and services for LISD. Prior to the change, some dyslexic students received instruction under special education while others did so through a Section 504 plan.

Some students may continue to receive accommodations for dyslexia under a Section 504 Plan, such as more time to take tests, while any students needing to be pulled out of their classes to receive dyslexia-specific instruction must now do so through special education, said Steven Aleman, senior policy specialist for Disability Rights Texas.

Of the 2,236 dyslexic students in LISD, 52% received services through a Section 504 plan in the 2023-24 school year, Waltmon said. Districts may now need to re-evaluate dyslexic students to determine if they require specially designed instruction under special education, Aleman said.

Additionally, the law outlines new requirements staff must meet to evaluate students and participate in their special education Admission, Dismissal and Review committee meetings, or ARD meetings.

Diving in deeper

A dyslexia therapist is the gold standard for evaluating students under the law while districts have flexibility for their staff to acquire national credentials or receive additional training provided by the Texas Education Agency, Aleman said.

There were 1,039 licensed dyslexia therapists in Texas as of August, according to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. Meanwhile, nearly 330,000 public school students in the state have dyslexia, according to the TEA.

While Waltmon said she believes it will be beneficial to serve all dyslexic students under special education, the new requirements on who can evaluate students are unclear and could present challenges for the district, she said. The district may need to hire more staff or work to provide staff members with additional certifications, coursework and training that could be time consuming and costly, Waltmon said.

Becoming a licensed dyslexia therapist requires a master’s degree and at least 900 hours of coursework and training, according to the TDLR.

Additionally, the district’s most highly trained dyslexia providers may be restricted to administrative duties, such as evaluations and ARD meetings, instead of working with students directly, Waltmon said.

“We already have people that are highly trained for the evaluations, and they do an incredible job,” Waltmon said. “I would like to be able to keep that so that we can keep our highly trained dyslexia staff in the classroom with kids.”

The district’s dyslexia specialists, who provide instruction to students, may no longer participate in case management without being certified in special education, Waltmon said. Many of the district's specialists are already certified in special education while LISD will help any remaining staff become certified, she said.

The Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education opposed HB 3928 during the 2023 legislative session due to its heightened personnel requirements, TCASE Director of Governmental Relations Andrea Chevalier said.

“We would love to have as many knowledgeable people as possible in the evaluation process, but in our current context, where staffing is such an issue and people are already strained, we felt like that piece was too much,” Chevalier said.

According to the new law, qualified staff must now meet one of the following criteria to evaluate students and participate in their special education ARD meetings:
  • Be a licensed dyslexia therapist
  • Have “the most advanced dyslexia-related certification”
  • Meet additional training requirements adopted by the State Board of Education
The context

The TEA has encouraged districts to provide dyslexia services under special education after the agency was subject to a corrective action plan from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs in 2018, said Karlyn Keller, division director of school Medicaid services and student solutions for the Texas Association of School Boards.

The federal department’s evaluation included concerns about dyslexic students being excluded from special education services, she said.

State lawmakers have passed several pieces of legislation regarding dyslexia education in recent years, including HB 3928, to close gaps in dyslexia students receiving special education services and clear up confusion among districts, Aleman said.

“If you bring more expertise to the individual who's involved, the student will respond better to the services because they're being delivered appropriately and adequately," he said.

The new law improves services for dyslexic students by requiring a member of their ARD meetings to have knowledge of dyslexia and better informing parents about their students’ care, said Carla Moriel, a district relations executive and subject matter expert for Amplio, a special education platform that provides districts in Texas with dyslexia curriculum and expertise.

Compared to a Section 504 plan, a special education plan gives parents and their students more protections through robust documentation and provides greater accountability, Chevalier said.

“This is done to benefit our kiddos,” Moriel said. “At the end of the day, they are the ones that are going to get to benefit from this.”

Going forward

The State Board of Education is working to revise the state's dyslexia handbook to detail how the new law should be enforced, including specifications on which training or certifications may be required, Aleman said. LISD is asking the SBOE to provide more clarity on the new personnel requirement in its draft version of the handbook, which the SBOE is expected to finalize by the end of June, Waltmon said.

Additionally, TASB, TCASE and Disability Rights Texas will continue to advocate for more special education funding. Although the recent dyslexia changes did not come with any associated funding, it has significant costs to districts, Chevalier said.

“We're already underfunded in special education, and there was no money attached to it. Now, we’re sending people to training and getting them certified,” Chevalier said.