Just weeks ago, the day after the 2018 midterm elections, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Texas had again improperly denied special education funding in 2012. Even though the number of special education students was increasing, Texas reduced program funding for special education by $33 million. Texas claimed the reduction was due to students overcoming their disabilities, and there was therefore an overall decrease in need across the state.While the 2012 decision to decrease its spending on special education was not in violation of federal law, Judge Jerry Smith of the 5th Circuit panel ruled the case as “posing potential abuse for the future”, and risking Texas’ ability to qualify for future federal education funding.
In Texas’ federal grant application earlier this year, the Texas Education Agency admitted it spent $41.6 million less in 2017 than it did in 2016 on special education programs, and how the state was in need of an additional $20 million in special education funding. While TEA has made major changes in structuring its approach to special education, including hiring more staff and a new special education director, its abrupt decrease in funding over the past decade could result in the federal government withholding grants or imposing additional fines.
Even the former President of the Texas El Paso Teacher Association expressed skepticism of Texas’ ability to use the money to improve special education programs stating, “they say they’re going to put all these resources into place but with limited funding and that’s not going to cut it.”
The underfunding of special education occurs in the context of a decreasing investment share in education by the state government. Due to these special education cuts, more than 200,000 students have been denied eligibility for special education programs, and and since 2004, an estimated 150,000 special education students have already aged through the public school system without proper evaluation and assistance.
The Legislature has also failed to pass several bills that would have advanced these programs, including:
- HB 23: A grant program to fund innovative programs for students with autism
- HB 21: Provides state funding for dyslexic students included in the Texas School Finance Formula
- SB 927: Creates a recovery program to help some students who had been denied special education services
- HB 3369: Provides special ed evaluations that are culturally and linguistically relevant for students who are learning English
- HB 1886: Requires screening for dyslexia and related disorders for all students in kindergarten and at the end of first grade
- SB 748: Provides increased administrative support and planning for older students with disabilities as they transition from public school to adult life.
- SB 160: Bans using a target or benchmark in any agency to measure how many students a district or charter school enrolls in special education.
While some members of the Texas Legislature are working to reform this issue, the pressure is on at the Capitol to finally fix the state’s special education system. Hopefully the new class of legislators will be able to Reform Austin and properly fund our special education programs.