Gov. Abbott sets out to revamp special education system in Texas

LA Johnson  NPR

On Thursday, the DOE sent TEA a letter concluding the investigation's findings and ordered the state to come up with a plan to identify every student who was unfairly kept out of special ed programs and figure out how to (belatedly) help them.

The Texas Education Agency led schools to illegally delay or deny special education services to students statewide, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Education Department.

The policy, the report found, was directly responsible for a decline in the state's overall special education rate from 11.6 percent in 2004 to 8.6 percent in 2016, despite a longtime national average of roughly 13 percent.

That draft will be shared with representatives of parent groups, special education advocacy groups, administrators and educators across Texas. "More importantly, I share the governor's commitment to doing what's right for special education students in our public schools".

The agency's attempts to address some of these problems in the last several months collapsed recently after it awarded a contract to overhaul special education to a company with a short track record without letting other firms bid for the job. This is not always true, researchers have found, and poor districts may end up with both more special education students and less total money to spend on them. The policy saved the state agency billions of dollars but denied education services to children with autism, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, epilepsy, mental illnesses, speech impediments, traumatic brain injuries, blindness and deafness, the newspaper said.


"The past dereliction of duty on the part of many school districts to serve our students, and the failure of TEA to hold districts accountable, are worthy of criticism", Abbott said in a statement.

During its investigation, OSEP found that some school districts took actions specifically created to decrease the percentage of students identified as children with disabilities in order to comply with the cap.

The agency put pressure on districts, such as Austin, that placed a higher percentage of students in special education by lowering their scores in state ratings, the report indicated.

Gov. Abbott also asked TEA to develop legislative recommendations to ensure school districts throughout Texas comply with the upcoming changes. School district officials said they expected they would receive less monitoring if they served 8.5 percent of students or fewer. "Since becoming Commissioner, I have worked to strengthen the supports provided to our parents and school systems", Morath said in a statement. "Far too many students in Texas had been precluded from receiving supports and services under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)". Yet private schools under the law do not have to provide a free, appropriate public education, so if special education students are getting vouchers they may be giving up some of their federal rights.

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