Gov. Abbott directs TEA to take action to fix special education

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In findings released Thursday, the department's Office of Special Education Program said Texas failed to ensure that a free appropriate public education was made available to all children with disabilities in the state, as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.

A U.S. Department of Education investigation has ruled that Texas' education agency illegally denied therapy, tutoring, counseling, and other needed aid to tens of thousands of students with disabilities.

Following the completion of the initial plan, it will be shared with representatives of parent groups and special education advocacy groups, as well as administrators and educators throughout the state.

Texas may have been the only state to set a black-and-white target, but the number of students in special education varies around the country, and so does the quality of funding and services.

But now, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has given his education agency a week to produce a plan to completely "reform special education" in the nation's second-largest state. From 2003 to 2017, the number of children identified as having disabilities declined by about 32,000 students, while total enrollment in Texas schools grew by more than 1 million students, according to the report.

Ryder said the state implemented an indicator in its "Performance Based Monitoring and Analysis System" to measure the percentage of students in special education classes.

Abbott's letter to the TEA summarizes the DOE report, which points out "multiple failures by local school districts to adequately address the needs of our most vulnerable students" going back to 2004.

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TEA has since scrapped the indicator and lawmakers passed legislation prohibiting the use of such indicators to exclusively measure the total percentage or number of kids receiving special education or related services. As a direct result of the policy, regulators determined, the share of students receiving special education services in Texas dropped from 11.6 percent in 2004 to 8.6 percent in 2016 - a difference of about 150,000 children.

"Quite simply, on this project we failed to live up to the standards our students deserve, and I take full responsibility for that", Morath said in a recent statement.

"We have added significant resources focused on increasing technical assistance and training for our school systems, including 39 statewide special education support staff in the previous year", he says.

"My top priority has and continues to be to improve outcomes for all students in Texas", Morath said.

The federal investigation was prompted by a massive report from the Houston Chronicle in 2016. The state passed legislation previous year that prohibits such targets.

Parents told the I-Team some schools refused to even evaluate their children to see if they would qualify for services the federal government requires districts to provide students with disabilities.