After federal findings showed a number of shortfalls in the Texas educational system regarding its special education students, this week, the Texas Education Agency released a plan to reform the system.
The U.S. Department of Education released another report back in January, which, per its text, found the State of Texas failed to make special education services available to many students in need, according to KERA.
Specifically, analysts said they found Texas in noncompliance with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in a few crucial areas, including failure to identify students in need of special education services and failure to ensure a free appropriate public education is available to Texans ages 3-21 with disabilities.
This noncompliance by the Texas Education Agency reportedly resulted in a big drop in the number of students eligible for special education services, which prompted the investigation by the federal Department of Education.
The federal report triggered a media backlash, prompting Texas Governor Greg Abbott to send a letter to Texas Department of Education Commissioner Mike Morath directing his department to come up with a reform plan within seven days of the letter’s receipt.
Now, the Texas Education Agency is working on an initial plan to try and correct its special education shortcomings:
“The fact that the feds have cracked down on Texas, and Texas has admitted they need to make changes, it’s basically a good first step,” Pete Yoder, whose son is autistic, said in an interview with KERA. “It goes beyond the education. While this a step in the right direction, nothing’s going to ever pay back for the years of our loss.”
Morath and Texas Education Agency officials said they expect to release their final plan to the U.S. Department of Education on April 18, and, in the meantime, encourage the pubic to read their ideas, available for review on their website, along with the dates where the agency will take formal public input on the plan.
Initial phases of the planned solution reportedly involve hiring more teachers and spending around $84 million on additional improvements.
DeEtta Culbertson, of TEA’s communications staff, said the following in a statement:
“The commissioner shares the governor’s commitment to doing what’s right for special education students in our public schools. And so he will work at addressing and adding significant resources focused on increasing technical assistance and training for our school systems.”
Because of issues related to the government’s findings, Yoder said he became forced to put his son in private school for a time, leaving his family to deal emotionally and financially with its expensive pricetag.
Despite the countless families potentially affected by these revelations, attorney Kym Rogers with Disability Rights Texas said she is pleased the agency is moving to correct its mistakes, emphasizing the long-term need to hold on to the commitment:
“We think there are encouraging elements in what TEA has proposed, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” Rogers said in an interview. “TEA has committed to a transparent process with active involvement from the stakeholders and they need to follow through on this commitment.”
This is a developing story.