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TEA Releases Final Special Education Plan; Advocates Wonder Who Will Pay For It

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Nick Amoscato | Flickr Creative Commons
Flickr Creative Commons

Four months after the U.S. Department of Education found that the Texas Education Agency had broken federal law by effectively setting a cap on the number of children who could receive special education services, TEA has released the final draft of its plan to comply with federal monitoring requirements.

Texas abolished the 8.5 percent special education cap in 2017, but there are thousands of children who likely should have been receiving services during the 13 years it was in effect.

The U.S. Department of Education has directed Texas to identify those children and provide them with the therapy and other services they are owed.

TEA’s plan provides school districts with temporary assistance contracting with specialists who can identify those students and $65 million to help pay for those compensatory services.

But Steve Aleman, with Disability Rights Texas, said listing the $65 million is misleading.

“That is money that the state already received and is due to school districts,” Aleman said. “It’s not as if they found some additional money.”

Penny Schwinn, TEA’s deputy commissioner of academics, confirmed the $65 million is federal special education money given to the state for dispersal to districts.

“We’ve committed to spend the funding that we have, and so we are spending all the money that we have related to the (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act),” Schwinn said.

The lack of state funding concerns Kristin McGuire of the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education.

“Right now it’s words on paper,” McGuire said.

Schwinn said TEA will ask state legislators for more money as part of the budget appropriations process in August and September, but didn’t say how much.

TEA also said it’s ultimately up to state lawmakers to appropriate money.

Kyle Piccola, with the disability advocacy group Arc of Texas, called that a “cop out.”

He wanted TEA’s plan to estimate how much implementing compensatory services and other elements of the plan will cost in order to give lawmakers a framework.

The plan places the primary responsibility for testing students and paying for services with school districts, saying that “there are minimal additional requirements for a local school system outside of what has always been the expectation.”

The main focus of TEA’s plan is boosting its staffing to monitor school districts and providing statewide training to teachers and administrators.

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter @cmpcamille

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@TPR.org and on Twitter at @cmpcamille. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.