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

Lester Mason
January 13, 2018

The U.S. Department of Education said Thursday that Texas violated federal special education law when education officials there adopted a policy that sought to lower the number of students eligible for disability services.

The target, enacted in 2004 and eliminated a year ago, was set at 8.5 percent of enrollment, and school districts were penalized for exceeding that benchmark, even though the state and national averages had both always been about 12 percent. From 2003 to 2017, the number of children identified as having disabilities declined by about 32,000 students, while total enrollment in Texas schools grew by more than 1 million students, according to the report.

TEA officials have said that indicator was not a cap but created to help districts ensure they weren't inappropriately sending students to special education. Gov. Greg Abbott has directed Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to take swift and immediate action to address findings in the report.

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Morath says his agency has already added 39 statewide special education support staff to work with school districts and better administer services.

For years, Texas education officials illegally led schools across the state to deny therapy, tutoring and counseling to tens of thousands of children with disabilities, the federal government said Thursday.

TEA has since scrapped the indicator and lawmakers passed legislation prohibiting the use of such indicators to exclusively measure the total percentage or number of kids receiving special education or related services.

In response, Texas officials committed to working with parents and special education advocates to develop and implement a corrective action plan.

"I am committing today that there will be more".

"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", said Abbott.

The U.S. Department of Education's letter comes after a 15-month review into the dramatic decline in special education enrollment in Texas in the past decade.

Abbott also requested the agency send him legislative recommendations for ensuring school districts are complying with all federal and state special education laws. School district officials said they expected they would receive less monitoring if they served 8.5 percent of students or fewer.

"Quite simply, on this project we failed to live up to the standards our students deserve, and I take full responsibility for that", Morath said in a recent statement. My top priority has and continues to be to improve outcomes for all students in Texas.”.

The state's new special education director had filed a federal complaint alleging misconduct about the contract and was sacked from the agency the next day, according to the Texas Tribune.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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