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

Federal Officials Say Texas Illegally Denied Thousands Special Education Services

In a letter to the Texas Education Agency, which oversees education in the state, regulators from the federal Department of Education said the state agency's decision to set a "target" for the maximum percentage of students who should receive special education services had violated federal laws requiring schools to serve all students with disabilities. That's what the U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday, after a 15-month investigation. There families told stories of having to borrow against their homes to hire attorneys in order to fight school administrators they say were denying their children services. "I think that the children with disabilities in the state of Texas who have been ignored by TEA and not gotten the services they need, they've been somewhat validated".

Here's what happened in Texas, and why it matters.

OSEP launched an investigation and visited the Texas Education Agency and 12 independent school districts across the state last February, prompted by a series of reports in the Houston Chronicle which found that the state agency intentionally delayed or denied special education services to disabled students to stay below an 8.5 percent enrollment target. Districts could be penalized if they went over that rate.

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.

The result was that students who should have been getting help with their learning disabilities in many cases were instead left to struggle in regular classrooms with few resources, as parents fought with school officials for their children's federally guaranteed rights.

The target, enacted in 2004 and eliminated previous year, 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. 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.

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The agency removed the policy; since then enrollment has surged.

Gov. Greg Abbott gave the Texas commissioner of education, Mike Morath, one week to come up with an action plan to address these findings. "I don't expect we would issue a statement in this regard".

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

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.

"We have added significant resources focused on increasing technical assistance and training for our school systems, including 39 statewide special education support staff in the previous year", he said.

The agency said Kash's firing wasn't related to the compliant, coming instead because she failed to disclose allegations of the sexual abuse of a girl at an OR school district where she previously worked. Affected students couldn't get assistance such as therapy or extra instruction for learning disabilities.

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