Gov. Abbott directs TEA to take action to fix special education

LA Johnson  NPR

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.

A U.S. Department of Education investigation concluded Thursday that Texas violated federal law by failing to ensure students with disabilities were properly evaluated and provided with an adequate public education.

Texas put the 8.5 percent benchmark into place in 2004 and got rid of it just a year ago, after a 2016 investigation in the Houston Chronicle brought it to light.

Texas schools deliberately delayed services to kids who needed special education services to keep their numbers low because of a state indicator that many perceived as a cap on enrollment, federal officials found.

The stinging assessment from Republican President Donald Trump's administration prompted Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Thursday to order the state's education agency to take immediate steps to fix the problem.

Abbott wrote "such failures are not acceptable" and gave the TEA seven days to prepare a corrective action plan.

"I am committing today that there will be more". "I've worked directly with TEA Commissioner [Mike] Morath on resolving these issues, and I appreciate the Texas Education Agency's efforts to ensure all children with disabilities are appropriately identified, evaluated and served under IDEA".

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TEA has denied allegations that it capped services for students.

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.

Many school districts subjected their students to interventions, including those with dyslexia, in a general education environment rather than provide them with services when they were suspected of having a disability, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Education.

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.

Federal officials returned to Texas last February to tour selected school districts for a firsthand look at local special education data and policies. The fallout from this explosive investigation inspired Texas lawmakers to scrap the policy and introduce new bills improving special education access in the 2017 state legislature. School district officials said they expected they would receive less monitoring if they served 8.5 percent of students or fewer.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said in a statement that he shared Abbott's urgency and "commitment to doing what's right for special education students in our public schools".

In addition, several states, including California, Massachussetts and New Jersey, use a census-based funding system, which assumes special education students are distributed uniformly across districts. 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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