Disabled students have suffered through the pandemic, especially through the changes and challenges of remote learning and the shuttering of schools and in-person learning that special education students rely upon. Some parents believe their children are losing valuable skills.
In Texas, a new program that could help some of those families now has funding. Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency announced that nearly 59,000 students statewide are eligible to benefit from the Supplementary Special Education Services program.
Families that qualify will receive access to a targeted spending account to purchase services costing up to $1,500 dollars per eligible student, according to the governor’s office. The money may be used for tutoring, therapy, and digital resources through vendors approved and vetted by the TEA.
“This program is a win for Texas families and children with special education needs, many of whom have endured education disruptions due to COVID-19,” Abbott said in a statement.
Up to 20,000 accounts will be available for families in Texas whose children have eligible disabilities. Families of students enrolled in public school during the 2020-2021 school year who were enrolled during the initial COVID-19 closures in spring 2020 and have been identified as having a low-incidence disability — an intellectual disability, a developmental disability, a visual impairment, hearing loss, a significant physical disability, multiple disabilities, or are on the autistic spectrum — will qualify, according to a news release.
The TEA will establish a web-based application process, and applications will be available in late 2020.
Not everyone thinks the program is truly a win for disabled students and makes up for their struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic. Disability advocacy groups and teaching communities say the funding alone isn’t enough, and it will go quickly.
Clay Robison, public affairs specialist for the Texas State Teachers Association told the Dallas Morning News that the program’s proposal “is very limited.”
“The needs of Texas’ special education school children are much greater,” Robison said. “We hope the state at some point contributes more.”
Steven Aleman, a senior policy specialist with Disability Rights Texas, doesn’t think the $1,500 goes far enough for some families, especially when considering the cost of private experts and therapists, the Texas Tribune reported.
Aleman considers the announcement “a more piecemeal approach” instead of a comprehensive school-based strategy.