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Friday, January 15, 2021

Columns

Limiting special needs education is wrong step in saving money


recent Houston Chronicle investigation found out that the Texas Education Agency limited the percentage of students provided special-education services to meet the state enrollment benchmark in the face of a $1.1 billion budget cut.

In the process, the percentage of students receiving special-needs services dropped from the most recent statistics in 2005 — 12.9 percent — to 8.5 percent, adding up to more than 700 students purged from special education programs.

After reading the report, one thing is certainly clear: Texas is putting education on the back burner. The state is not taking responsibility for the potentially devastating impact of its decision to cut costs and refuse eligible students their right to special education services.

TEA, shortly after the Chronicle released the report, issued a letter that denied the allegations against them.

“TEA does not have any specific evidence indicating there has been a systematic denial of special education services to eligible students with disabilities despite the fact that the article states that several hundred interviews were conducted and records from several school districts were reviewed,” wrote Penny Schwinn, TEA’s deputy commissioner of academics.

“Furthermore, TEA has not received any formal or informal complaints demonstrating that specific school districts have engaged in such an effort to deny eligible students with disabilities the services they need based on the special education representation indicator in PBMAS (Performance-Based Monitoring Analysis System).”

Yet the investigation contained a number of teachers coming forth with their own stories, recalling the stress of putting prospective special needs students through rigorous tests only to deny them beneficial services. These stories are more convincing than any denial on Schwinn’s part.

The proof is in the pudding, as far as statistics are concerned, and evidence will always win over words.

In her response letter to the Department of Education, Schwinn went on to infer that a district staff “erroneously viewed the indicator’s lowest performance range as a target rather than a data point and felt discouraged to initiate special education referrals.”

There’s no better way to spurn responsibility than to foist it off onto others, which is exactly what the TEA is doing. Teachers from nearly every school district in Texas can’t all tell the same story.

Something smells fishy, and it’s definitely coming from the TEA.

Fortunately, the Chronicle’s investigation drew much-needed attention to the “erroneous” cap placed on special education.

Joe Straus, Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, sent a letter to the TEA, rebuking them for denying services to students who might benefit from the special needs program. Straus urged the TEA to readjust its monitoring system “until the Legislature and the agency can come up with a more lasting solution.”

Hopefully, the “lasting solution” will provide special needs students with the services they require without having to jump through hoops to satisfy Texas’ ridiculous eligibility requirements. It will take more than words for TEA to save face among the allegations being levied against them.

Hundreds of kids have gone long enough without the services they deserve. Hopefully, TEA can stand trial when the time comes and own up to their mess.

Senior staff Columnist Caprice Carter is a communication junior and can be reached at [email protected]

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