Full reform of the state funding system for special education is necessary, but given the current “financial and societal climate” alternatives to that overall goal may be necessary. That is the main conclusion of the Special Education Committee Allotment Advisory Committee formed by the Texas Legislature in 2019 to consider a state funding system for special education based on student need rather than instructional arrangement.
“The members of the committee hope that each state lawmaker takes a careful look at the report and speaks to his or her constituents on the recommendations,” committee co-chairs Steven Aleman and Kristin McGuire said in a joint statement to RA News. “It’s even more important in this time of uncertainty that focus be given to how this state prioritizes the education of students with disabilities. This includes financial resources and the way in which these resources are distributed throughout the state. The current system is flawed, so the time is now to act.”
Special education programs in Texas serve about 588,300 students with disabilities. That represents a dramatic increase from the approximately 500,000 students served just two years ago.
There are 13 eligibility categories for placement in special education classes, but about half of the Texas students have either a specific learning disability that impacts their ability to access part or all of the general academic curriculum, or they have a speech disability that impacts their ability to communicate effectively. Students with autism make up the second largest group.
Rather than simply call for more dollars, the committee’s recommendations take into consideration how existing financial resources could be more efficiently distributed to improve student outcomes.
Among the recommendations is a switch from the current funding formula based on where a student is served to one that takes into account the intensity of the services, support and instruction that must be offered.
In the committee’s view, the current system is severely outdated and does not address the true cost of educating students with disabilities in today’s public education system. Today, the majority of students with disabilities are likely spending most of their time in a regular classroom. Some require very minimal support while others need intensive services and support.
“My simple hope is Texas moves away from a decades-old formula that normalizes segregation to separate settings and instead adopts a modern, inclusive formula based on student need,” committee member Lisa Flores stated in the report. “It is my hope the state of Texas someday becomes the model of best inclusive funding to other states to compare and that the change in funding results in better outcomes for students with disabilities and their families.”
The report also includes recommendations for updating pieces of the current funding system to obtain more equitable and efficient levels of support, maximizing existing revenue sources and finding new ones and development of high-quality professionals and elimination of shortage areas.
Many of the ideas could be pursued in the absence of a wholesale remake of the special education allocation formula. The rebalancing of available dollars could infringe on local budget flexibility, but it could also reduce some of the special education funding burden local districts currently carry.