As the school year begins in Texas, it’s estimated that 350,000 students, mostly Latino and Black, with disabilities will go without the support necessary for a proper education.
It’s not surprising, as in March, Public School Finance Commissioner Chair and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister asked if the state should be spending education dollars “on the brightest kids” or “the slow learners” Brister later apologized for the comment.
Latino students are the majority in 11 of the top 20 school districts, Black students account for 20 percent of the population in six of the top 20 districts, and only one district out of the 20 largest is majority white. The remaining districts have less than 10% white students, and in some places like San Antonio, less than 2%. Over 60 percent of students in all Texas public school are economically disadvantaged, and 17.5 percent are English language learners.
For decades, Texas schools used special education to segregate students. There were investigations for enrolling too many Black and Latino students in the programs. Those students were not tested or have any guarantees of being properly educated.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) put a budget cap into place in 2004, which incentivized school districts to deny students special education. Now, 14 years later, the results are dire.
“To maintain a [budget] cap, the whole system became infected with a toxicity of bad practices,” said Cheryl Fries, an Austin parent and a co-founder of Texans for Special Education Reform. “An entire generation of teachers has been mistrained.”
An annual review by the Department of Education found that 29 states and the District of Columbia fell short of education obligations in 2016-17. Texas state and local districts were ruled to have violated the law requiring special education services, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.
Lindsay Jones, the chief policy and advocacy officer for the National Center on Learning Disabilities (NCLD) said it was “absolutely the largest-scale violation” of the law since its passage in 1975.
But Gov. Greg Abbott shifted responsibility and criticized local school districts for their “dereliction of duty” in failing to serve students.
“We weren’t derelict: The state of Texas was derelict, the Texas Education Agency was derelict,” said HD Chambers, superintendent of Alief ISD and president of the Texas School Alliance, an advocacy group. “We were following what they put in place.”
Federal Report Says Texas Public Schools Have Not Been Giving Special Ed Students The Help They Need
Last year hundreds of parents told federal officials that Texas schools have failed to help thousands of student with disabilities.
Washington has also ordered the state to find, evaluate and provide services to eligible students enrolled and offer compensatory services to those 200,000 students who had past been denied. This includes finding young adults in mental hospitals and correction facilities, who have higher than average rates of undiagnosed learning disabilities.
The TEA has drawn up a plan that is in federal review, for helping districts with teacher trainings and evaluations and monitoring of students, costing $211 million over five years. But this plan puts all of the ownership on local districts to rectify the massive issue.
“TEA cannot legally commit additional funds outside of those that are appropriated by the Texas Legislature and the U.S. Congress,” the draft reads. “This strategic plan has been designed so that it can be sustained with existing appropriations.”
Fries said, “It’s like, ‘Hey, schools, guess what You have to provide evaluations and services and compensatory services, and there’s no money and we’ve already been cutting your money for years, so good luck.'”