Wednesday, December 23, 2009

New Jersey considers legislation to help those with reading disabilities

From The Associated Press:

TRENTON, N.J. - Help may soon be on the way for New Jersey students who have reading disabilities and difficulties with language skills.

Gov. Jon Corzine is considering legislation that would create a reading disabilities task force, which would help determine the best methods for diagnosing, treating and educating special needs students. It also would examine how state educational laws and regulations affect students with special reading and language skill needs.

Proponents note that about 85 percent of New Jersey students now in special education classes are language- or reading-deficient and many don't receive proper training to overcome their problems. They say the measure would save money by reducing or eliminating unnecessary special education expenses.

"Having the ability to read is vital to succeeding in school and getting a good job," said Assemblyman Nelson Albano, D-Cape May Court House, who was a primary sponsor of the bill along with fellow Democrats Pamela R. Lampitt of Cherry Hill and Matthew W. Milam of Cape May Court House.

"We need to redouble our efforts to ensure that every child is able to read and to overcome difficulties that can lessen their future prospects for success," Albano said.

The bill (A-880/S-2400) was passed in both the Assembly and Senate earlier this month and sent to Corzine. The governor's office said he was reviewing the measure, but it was not clear whether he would sign, reject or conditionally veto it.

If approved, the 13-member panel would include the state commissioners of education and human resources as members, along with four legislators and seven members of the public.

Bill sponsors say it was inspired by Samantha Ravelli, an Ocean City Intermediate School student who has overcome severe dyslexia , a neurological disorder that makes it difficult to process language , through specialized reading courses. Ravelli started the courses about two years ago and has since made the honor roll and become more involved in student activities.

"Special education classes are too costly and inappropriate for students who are only being held back because of a reading disability," said Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May County, who sponsored the measure in the Senate. "Rather than providing generic special education to kids who should be classified differently, we must focus our limited educational resources to meet the students' unique needs."

Ravelli was in the Senate chamber when lawmakers passed the measure by a 39-0 vote. Before that, Van Drew asked her to formally move the bill on the Senate floor and she also pressed the button to register his vote.