Teachers unions, lawmaker and others at odds over dyslexia-related bill

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The governor finds herself in a tough spot, in the middle of a disagreement between educators. A petition backed by the teachers’ unions is urging Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to veto a bill meant to help first graders learn to read and write.

Bother unions and the sponsor of the bill firmly believe they are doing the right thing for children who may have dyslexia.

‘Shame on you,’ is what Sen. Mimi Stewart tweeted Wednesday night, with her virtual finger-wagging at the Albuquerque Teachers’ Federation, which tweeted a link to a petition urging the governor to veto Stewart’s Senate Bill 398.

“This is something we’ve needed for many years,” Sen. Stewart said.

The bill is aimed at identifying students with dyslexia and has become a point of contention. Sen. Stewart says she has support from both national dyslexia and education groups, but she lacks the support of the New Mexico and Albuquerque teachers’ unions. “I don’t feel ashamed. I feel like I’m doing the right thing for the teachers I represent and the children that they teach,” ATF President Ellen Bernstein said.

Bernstein says she found out about the bill well into the legislative session and tried to voice concerns. Sen. Stewart, a retired educator, stands by the proposed legislation, which would mandate a short screening for first graders to determine if they show signs of dyslexia.

“We can’t let these kids fail. That’s what we do now. We don’t refer young children for reading problems until third or fourth grade,” Sen. Stewart said

The union believes there are several problems though, including that first grade is too early, which could lead to kids being mislabeled. “We don’t believe this is currently necessary. We would like to work with the sponsor to connect policy with practice in the future, and we really think in terms of how we identify and support kids that we have a good process now,” Bernstein said.

So far, the teachers’ unions have gathered more than 240 signatures and will submit whatever they get to the governor. She has until April 5 to act on the legislation.

The governor has not given either side of the issue any indication on where she stands on the bill.

Updated: March 24, 2019 — 8:24 am