Laura Isensee | Texas Public Radio

Laura Isensee

Fort Bend ISD has tried to grow its staff of licensed specialists in school psychology with an aggressive internship program to help meet the soaring demand for special education services.
Laura Isensee | Houston Public Media

In the last three years, Fort Bend schools have seen the demand for special education almost double. More teachers and parents are asking for children to be tested for a disability — which district leaders say is a huge step forward since the end of a Texas policy that denied services to tens of thousands of children for over a decade.

Nicholas, 13, works on his homework with his mother Britany Miller at home on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, in Houston. Davis is an eighth grader at The Lawson Academy.
Marie D. De Jesús | Houston Chronicle

Twice, Britany Miller has asked for special education services and accommodations at two different Houston-area charter schools for her son, Nicholas Davis, who struggles with depression and an attention disorder.

Carolinda Acevedo, 13, says she feels calmer and more supported at her new online school than at her public school, where she was denied special ed services.
Chris Paul | Houston Public Media

Last year, as a seventh-grader at Lake Jackson Intermediate, Carolinda Acevedo struggled in class — even though she loves learning. She'd stay up late to finish her homework, but then did poorly on state exams. She lost interest in her favorite hobby, making slime in all the colors of the rainbow. Her anxiety and mood disorder flared up so much that Carolinda had to be hospitalized, her mom Christina Acevedo says.

They are early risers and hard workers. They have a "talent for struggling through" and the determination that follows. Some are the first in their family to go to college — or even graduate from high school — and many are financially independent from their parents. They're often struggling to pay for rent, groceries and transportation while taking classes. And that means working while in school — in retail, on campus or even with a lawn care business.

It's 5 o'clock in the morning, and Sarah Salazar would rather be sleeping. Not just because it's early. Or because she's a teenager and can't seem to get enough sleep. Doctors say the shotgun pellets embedded in her shoulder, lung and back have sent her lead levels skyrocketing and leave her feeling tired much of the time.

Republican leaders in Texas are pushing for a bill in the state legislature that could add $9 billion into public education spending. But the push for education reform is nothing new in Texas. Fifty years ago, a San Antonio father named Demetrio Rodriguez demanded fair education for his children, taking his fight all the way to the Supreme Court.

Back-to-school shopping has been different this year for Annette Holder, whose son Clayton is an incoming freshman at Santa Fe High School.

The school’s new metal detectors mean more composition books, fewer three-ring binders – or really anything with metal.

When teachers and activists demanded schools in Texas, where more than half of the public school students are Hispanic, teach more Mexican-American studies, the State Board of Education responded by calling for more textbooks on the subject.

So far, though, the only book submitted for approval has drawn fierce criticism.

This week, activists voiced that criticism in front of the Texas Board of Education in a public hearing in Austin. Dozens attended, with some driving hours to the capital from Dallas, Houston and other parts of the state.

The Texas Supreme Court just doesn't want to get involved in how the state pays for its public schools. That was the signal the nine justices sent Friday when they unanimously ruled the state school funding system, which historically has been one of the country's most controversial, constitutional.

In 1973, in a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that there was no federal right to equal school funding in the Constitution.

That was more than 40 years ago, and today Patty Rodriguez, a teacher in the same school district in San Antonio where that fight started, says nothing has changed.

Her father, Demetrio Rodriguez, filed the suit. It became a landmark case, a turning point when the focus around school funding shifted from the federal government to the states.