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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

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Changes coming to special education in Texas

Special Education in Texas
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Special Education in Texas

A federal investigation prompted by a 2016 series published by the Houston Chronicle found Texas had failed to comply with federal guidelines for special education by neglecting to provide differently-abled students with adequate education.
On Thursday, Jan. 18, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released a preliminary plan to reform special education in Texas public schools. The announcement of the plan came a week after the U.S. Department of Education concluded a 15-month investigation into the state of special education in Texas.
The Department of Education confirmed what investigative journalists from the Chronicle had been arguing for more than a year—the TEA had effectively capped the number of students who could receive special education benefits.
In September 2016, Chronicle reporter Brian M. Rosenthal published the first in a seven-part series of articles outlining the actions of the TEA, arguing that the Agency was acting in its own financial interests by neglecting the needs of disabled students.
“Over a decade ago, the officials arbitrarily decided what percentage of students should get special education services—8.5 percent—and since then they have forced school districts to comply by strictly auditing those serving too many kids,” Rosenthal wrote.
According to data from the National Education Association, the average cost of education per student is more than double for special needs students. This explains the potential financial motivation behind capping the number of students eligible for special education services in Texas.
While special education enrollment in the United States has remained steady, enrollment in Texas has plummeted to the lowest rate of special education enrollment in the country.
In a statement, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke in defense of children with disabilities.
“Every child with a disability must have appropriate access to special education and related services that meet his or her unique needs,” DeVos said.
While the TEA continues to deny that they neglected special needs students for financial gain, Governor Greg Abbott demanded that the agency outline a plan to reform special education within seven days after the conclusion of the federal investigation. The 13-page plan outlines the intention of the agency to hire more special education staff and to provide resources to previously overlooked students.
“Governor Abbott recognizes that fixing special education in Texas is of critical importance and no small task,” said a spokesperson for the Governor after the TEA’s plan was released.
“Although there is much work to be done, he believes this initial action plan is a positive first step in the right direction.”
Abbott was one of the most vocal critics of Texas school districts in the wake of the federal investigation.
“The past dereliction of duty on the part of many school districts to serve our students and the failure of the TEA to hold districts accountable are worthy of criticism,” Abbott wrote in a letter to the TEA.
According to a Jan. 11 article in the New York Times, Dustin Rynders, the director of education at the disability advocacy group Disability Rights Texas, was the first advocate to uncover the TEA special education enrollment caps.
“The Commissioner of Education must immediately embrace the corrective actions required by the U.S. Department of Education and take additional steps, in collaboration with stakeholders, to ensure that all students who were previously denied special education services now rightfully receive compensatory services,” Rynders said.
Locally, College Station educators have noticed an increase in families seeking special education since the TEA’s 2016 decision to remove the cap on eligibility.
Molley Perry, CSISD’s executive director of special services and accountability, said she believes this is due to increased discussion of special education services in the media.
“I do think there’s increased awareness as a result of media coverage, so we’ve had a lot of referral requests,” Perry said.

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