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DeVos: Texas Violated Rights of Tens of Thousands of Students With Disabilities

DeVos: Texas Violated Rights of Tens of Thousands of Students With Disabilities

The directive follows a report sent Thursday to TEA from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) regarding compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

After interviews and monitoring visits with parents, school administrators and state officials, the federal investigation found that the Texas Education Agency effectively capped the statewide percentage of students who could receive special education services and incentivized some school districts to deny services to eligible students. 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.

TEA failed to make sure all children with disabilities in Texas in need of special education and related services were "identified, located and evaluated, regardless of the severity of their disability".

TEA failed to failed to ensure that all independent school districts throughout Texas properly implemented the IDEA's child find and FAPE requirements.

The corrective action plan called for by the Governor will outline the specific steps TEA will take to address all the identified issues.

"It is the federal government telling families we heard you, we understand, and you are right", said Kym Rogers with Disability Rights Texas. She was pleased with Thursday's news. Some Texas schools have been cited previously for funneling minority students into such programs, where they are not held to the same accountability standards. It's no surprise. We know that that's been occurring.

TEA officials have said that indicator was not a cap but created to help districts ensure they weren't inappropriately sending students to special education. Across the country, 13 percent of students, on average, are identified as needing special education - in some states, more. The Houston Chronicle reported in September 2016 that the state's arbitrary enrollment target had likely denied "tens of thousands" of kids special education services to cut costs.

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But the federal investigation found that the indicator, put in place in 2004, instead triggered a massive decline in special education as schools tried to stay under that indicator to avoid state scrutiny.

The target, enacted in 2004 and eliminated a year ago, was set at 8.5 percent of enrollment, and school districts were penalized for exceeding that benchmark, even though the state and national averages had both always been about 12 percent.

The agency removed the policy; since then enrollment has surged.

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.

The agency said Kash's firing wasn't related to the compliant, coming instead because she failed to disclose allegations of the sexual abuse of a girl at an OR school district where she previously worked.

Abbott signed two state laws last legislative session related to these issues.

In addition, several states, including California, Massachussetts and New Jersey, use a census-based funding system, which assumes special education students are distributed uniformly across districts.

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