Education’s #1 Job

Education’s #1 Job

School systems have several functions – educating children, preparing them for success and to thrive in society; but the most important function is to protect them.

Special education students face enough challenges without states adding to them. A Federal report from the US the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs stated that the Texas Education Agency had set arbitrary special education enrollment targets set to delay or deny special education services to students across the state. For more than a decade, TEA judged a school district’s performance based in part on the percentage of students receiving special education services. The report confirms the Houston Chronicle’s findings in a 2016 investigation, showing that tens of thousands of students with disabilities were denied special education services because of the 8.5 percent cap. “TEA’s use of the 8.5 percent indicator contributed to a statewide pattern of practices that demonstrate that TEA did not ensure that all [districts] in the State properly identified, located and evaluated all children with disabilities who were in need of special education and related services,” the department wrote.

Texas’ governor, Greg Abbott, following the federal report, sent a letter Education Commissioner Mike Morath directing him to prepare an initial corrective action plan within seven days. “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 the letter. “TEA must take steps now to significantly increase the oversight provided to ensure our special education students are receiving the services they deserve.” Abbott noted that the problems predate Morath, who became commissioner in 2016. Still, Abbott said, “parents and students demand significant actions be taken now to improve special education in Texas.”

The education department ordered the TEA to implement several corrective action measures. The state must show that it is monitoring the way districts evaluate students suspected of having a disability to ensure schools are providing students a “free appropriate public education,” a tenet of federal special education laws.

Schools must provide special education evaluations to students that were previously denied services. For students that already receive special ed, educators may need to determine if those students need more academic support.

The state must also submit a plan, including a timeline, for how it will train educators on RTI, the state’s dyslexia program and other special education laws.

“While there is still more work to be done, leaders in the state have assured me they are committed to ensuring all students with disabilities can achieve their full potential,” DeVos said.

The department did not lay out a specific date for when it expects to see the state’s plan, but the governor wants it within seven days, as well as potential legislative recommendations to ensure schools are following special education laws.

“Throughout your tenure, you have advised me of changes taking place at TEA to strengthen and better support special education in Texas,” Abbott said to Morath in the letter. “Through your efforts, much has already been done. However, it is obvious that more can be done, and more must be done.”

To exclude Special Education students’ services based on an arbitrary set percentage is of as school district’s number of students is ludicrous. Punishing Special Education students because they live in particular district is offensive and obviously illegal.