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The Source: Can Texas Public Schools Give Special Education Students The Help They Need?

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An investigative report last year revealed that the Texas Education Agency was using the percentage of students enrolled in special education classes as a performance indicator for public schools.

While the agency did not concede that this indicator resulted in punitive action, it discouraged district enrollment of more than 8.5 percent of all students in special education. The so-called enrollment cap effectively denied tens of thousands of Texas school children the special education services they needed.

The TEA maintains this percentage was a guideline, not a cap, but under mounting pressure Commissioner Mike Morath recently committed to eliminate the indicator altogether.

Officials from the U.S. Department Education are planning to tour 12 Texas school districts later this month to determine whether special education students are getting the help they need. 

Advocacy groups and families of students with disabilities are encouraging state lawmakers to enact legislation that would increase accountability and prohibit the future use of such a cap in the state’s performance-monitoring system for public schools.


The Texas Education Agency declined our invitation to join the conversation on today's program, but provided a written statement: 
"Thank you for providing us this opportunity. However due to our ongoing role in working with the U.S. Department of Education on this important issue, we believe we should allow the current process to continue. As a result, we do not believe it would be appropriate to participate as long as the process at the federal level is ongoing. The Texas Education Agency has provided to state leadership and the U.S. Department of Education the facts regarding this indicator. That response and all supporting materials are available for public viewing on the TEA website

Commissioner Morath has been asked about this topic at various public hearings at the Capitol and provided information. That audio is publicly available. In addition, Commissioner Morath has said multiple times dating to late last year that the indicator would be eliminated. In fact, the Houston Chronicle wrote about it back on December 16, 2016. I have also attached the latest reference to the Commissioner’s commitment. Finally, the Texas Education Agency continues working with special education advocacy groups to address any remaining issues."

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Kim Johnson is the producer for Texas Public Radio’s live, call-in show The Source. She is a Trinity University alum with bachelor’s degrees in Communication and Spanish, and a Master of Arts Degree from the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.