DOE Issues Warning to Texas Special Education Program

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by Andy Jones
October 29, 2016

The US Department of Education has given the Texas Education Agency until November 3 to cease using a benchmark that advocates argue has lead the state to systematically under identify the number of students who receive special education services.

The DOE first began investigating the TEA in August 2014, in response to letter raising similar concerns from Disability Rights Texas.

The Houston Chronicle reported in September that around 2004, the TEA set an 8.5 percent benchmark for the percentage of special education students in each school district. Districts above this benchmark are subject to “Corrective Action Plans,” prompting them to cut federally mandated services.

"I think districts are under a lot of pressure to comply with the state cap that's been put into place by TEA," Kym Rogers, a lawyer with Disability Rights Texas, told NPR. "Every school district has an obligation to identify students who are eligible for special education ... If there's reason to suspect there's a disability, the school district has an obligation to do that evaluation. That's an obligation by law.”

During the 2013-14 school year, only about 8.5 percent of students in Texas received special education services, by far the lowest in the country. The nationwide average is about 13 percent, according to the Houston Chronicle.

“The report raises serious concerns about the State’s compliance with a number of requirements of Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), including the child find requirements…and the requirement…to make a free appropriate public education available to all eligible children with disabilities residing in the state,” the DOE wrote in a letter to state officials, dated October 3. 

Disability Rights Texas and Disability Rights Washington are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Texas and Washington, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.