A series of listening sessions held by federal education officials has turned up evidence of serious concerns about shortcomings in services for special-education students. The hearings, which conclude with a session in Austin Thursday evening, were prompted by reports that school districts, under pressure from the state to cap the number of students in special education, have been underidentifying and underserving special-needs students.
Parents and educators alike at the listening sessions held thus far have cited examples of the denial of services to students who should have received them. Their statements tend to bear out investigative reporting by the Houston Chronicle that pinpoints one key factor: the denial of services to students with disabilities because they are English Language Learners deemed to have language impediments rather than a disability. The result, says the Chronicle, has been a statewide drop in the percentage of ELLs receiving special education to just 7.3 percent statewide, versus 8.7 percent for native English speakers. A Texas AFT survey just completed on current special-ed concerns reinforces the message of the Chronicle’s reporting; stay tuned for more on that survey shortly.
Gov. Greg Abbott meanwhile has seized on the reports of shortfalls in special-education services to argue for private-school vouchers, but that is not what special-ed parents are clamoring for. They understand that transferring their children from public to private schools will deprive those children of the many protections and accountability mandated by federal law in public schools but not in private settings. What parents are demanding is the funding and services their children are entitled to by law from the public schools. Gov. Abbott should work to address the serious underfunding of educational services in this state, not to undermine the public schools by draining desperately needed dollars out of them for the benefit of unaccountable private operators.