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U.S. Department of Education Officials Will Use December to Collect Public Feedback on Texas’ Special Education Services

U.S. Department of Education Officials Will Use December to Collect Public Feedback on Texas’ Special Education Services

U.S. Department of Education officials will be busy this month responding to an explosive investigation that indicates thousands of children in Texas have been denied special education services for over a decade.

In September, the Houston Chronicle released the results of a ground-breaking investigation into special education services in Texas.

"In 2004, the Texas Education Agency arbitrarily decided what percentage of students should get special education services. Today, disabled children across Texas are paying the price," the investigation’s caption reads.

That arbitrary number: 8.5 percent. Meaning, if the percentage of special education students receiving help in a given Texas school district surpassed 8.5 percent, that school district would be negatively evaluated. As a result, the Chronicle claims thousands of special education students have been denied services for the past twelve years on account of a random, careless "number's game."

The Chronicle has released scores of data that seem to back-up their claims. Beginning in 2005, complaints made to the federal government regarding Texas’ special education services totaled 162. In the 2014 school year, complaints sky-rocketed to 309. 

Further, in 2004 11.96 percent of Texas students were enrolled in special education. In the subsequent years, enrollment continued to drop until eventually declining to 8.61 percent in 2013 and continued its decline, reaching the 8.5 percent mark this year. 

When compared with other states, Texas is only the second state—even despite its large size—to have less than 10 percent of its students enrolled in special education services. 

While the data speaks for itself, the Houston Chronicle went on to interview over 300 experts, educators and parents.

From here, the Chronicle concluded that four agency officials picked the magic benchmark of 8.5 percent without any research to guide them. The Chronicle determined the officials to be: special education director Eugene Lenz; his deputies, Laura Taylor and Kathy Clayton; and accountability chief Criss Cloudt.

At the first release of the Chronicle’s investigation, the Texas Education Agency’s on-the-record response included a series of disagreements and denials.

Following the investigation’s public release, the backlash forced the TEA to act.

In the following months, the TEA suspended its special education enrollment target and addressed state public schools to emphasize the need to serve all special education students regardless of the prior culture of denial.

Now, the Department of Education will be doing its own investigation by holding a series of "listening sessions" in coordination with TEA officials. The listening sessions will be held in Texas’ major cities and will ask both residents and educators for feedback on the state’s special education services. 

For dates, times and locations of the sessions, see here.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

12/1/2016

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