Special Education survey reveals yet another example of how Texas is underfunding services to our most vulnerable children.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 16, 2016
CONTACTS:  Rob D’Amico, 512-627-1343
Dr. Charles Luke (Coalition for Public Schools) 940-768-8594


3000 South IH-35, Suite 175,  Austin, Texas 78704-6536
512-448-0130  1-800-222-3827
www.texasaft.org    www.fb.com/texasaft   www.twitter.com/texasaft

Special Education survey reveals yet another example of how Texas is underfunding services to our most vulnerable children
Parents demand access, governor shirks state responsibility with proposed voucher scheme

A Texas AFT statewide survey of Texas educators and parents highlights the barriers to Special Education services that many schoolchildren confront because school districts often lack the resources for evaluating and providing these students with the necessary educational services to which they are entitled by law.

Some 59 percent of survey respondents said under-identifying children with special needs is a problem in their school district.  In addition to a lack of adequate resources, especially a lack of skilled staff to meet student needs, respondents cited state and local pressures to limit the number of students receiving Special Education services and other factors like excessive paperwork and testing delays (also related to understaffing) that result in many students awaiting evaluations for special education services or being denied those services altogether.

The responses came in a Texas AFT online survey posted in November and early December with 822 respondents. The results confirm concerns raised in a recent Houston Chronicle series of articles showing that a state benchmark for districts enrolling students in Special Education—set at 8.5 percent of students—has limited the number of students receiving these programs.  In response to that investigation, the U.S. Department of Education sent officials to Texas to hold a series of “listening sessions” this week to hear directly from educators and parents—with hundreds of participants expressing concerns about the difficulties in getting schoolchildren properly tested for Special Education services.

Parents and educators alike at the listening sessions cited examples of the denial of services to students who should have received them, including 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.  The Texas AFT survey confirms these same concerns and raises the alarm about the long-term effects of school budget cuts inflicted on local public schools by the state Legislature and the results of these cuts on high-needs children.

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 Education parents are clamoring for. Parents 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.

Charles Luke, Coordinator of the Coalition for Public Schools and the parent of a special-needs student said: “My child with spina bifida requires a different level of treatment in the educational environment than another child.  A weighted public education funding system ensures that he receive every opportunity to learn?something the voucher plans typically omit.  Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), he receives educational and facilities accommodations that are not available in most private organizations.”

The U.S. DOE hearings into revelations that the state has been pressuring schools to limit Special Education services to qualified students come in the same week that Texas begins to enact cuts of Medicaid reimbursement rates for disabled children’s therapy services. Coupled with the recent revelation that the state has woefully underfunded Child Protective Services?causing scores of children to be housed in offices and thousands of children in foster care to go unmonitored?the gross neglect of Texas’ neediest residents and most vulnerable children and youth again comes into sharp relief.

Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro said: “The findings should add impetus to changes in policy at local and state level to provide adequate funding and adequate services?not twisted to rationalize a pre-conceived agenda of underfunding, declaring failure, and privatizing services.  Gov. Abbott and the leadership of the Texas Legislature 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.”

Texas American Federation of Teachers represents more than 65,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.6-million-member American Federation of Teachers.

See below for survey results, comments from the Coalition for Public Schools, and a sample of respondents’ comments.

Coalition for Public School

Special Education Vouchers a Bad Idea

Summary: Recent comments by Gov. Greg Abbott that issues with special education in Texas could be partially resolved with a special education voucher system lead the Coalition for Public Schools to provide the following points about special education vouchers:

Parents of special needs children give up federal protections with voucher programs – Children with special needs are federally protected by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and receive procedural and due process safeguards to ensure that their needs are met.  According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights parents who accept a special education voucher voluntarily waive their rights and their children’s rights under IDEA, including determinations whether the student should receive special services, their rights to sit on an admissions, review, dismissal (ARD) committee, and their rights to due process.

Costs are higher for special education in states where vouchers have been provided – According to the Center for Great Public Schools, states that have implemented special education vouchers have not realized reductions in the cost of education or special education.  Additionally, “they often come with hidden costs to parents as well, including the risk that tuitions will rise beyond the value of the voucher, and that schools may charge additional fees for needed services” allowing affluent families more access to special services than those that are economically disadvantaged.

There is no accountability for taxpayer funds and no way to determine whether students are being properly served – Private schools are not subject to many Texas public information acts. Additionally, schools receiving vouchers are often not included in state assessments, so taxpayers have no way of knowing how the voucher funds have been spent, and how students have fared. Couple this with the loss of federal accountability and there is massive potential for special needs students to be improperly served.

Voucher programs lack quality control of their teachers and have minimal requirements for teacher qualifications – According to a June 2016 study by the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, 83% of parents either did not know or disagreed that private schools receiving special education vouchers had the capacity to provide services, supports, and accommodations to meet the needs of each student with special needs attending the schools. Additionally, many states exempt private school teachers from the same minimum requirements mandated for public school teachers.

For more information contact:

Dr. Charles Luke – Email: charlesluke43@gmail.com  Phone: 940-768-8594

Texas AFT Special Education Services Survey

Breakdown of Survey Respondents
Teacher (regular education): 40.63% — 334
Teacher (special education): 22.26%– 183
Counselor: 2.80% — 23
Paraprofessional: 2.31% — 19
Diagnostician: 4.62% — 38
Parent of Special Needs Student: 5.23% — 43
Campus Administrator: 2.92% — 24
Other: 19.22% — 158

Total      822

In your experience, is underidentifying of students with special needs a problem in your school district?

Yes         58.5%

No           41.5%


In your experience, what are some of the reasons that students have been denied special education evaluations and/or services?


Does your school district encourage the use of general education services (such has Response to Intervention or Multi-Tiered Support Services) prior to a completing a child’s special education evaluation?

Yes         91.4%

No           8.6%


Are there formal or informal restrictions regarding when you can refer students for special education services based on time of year (6 weeks, after Nov. 1, 60 days, etc.)


Are those who are denied offered 504 services?

Yes         34.1%

No           15.0%

Unsure 51.0%


How often does the 504 coordinator check in on 504 students and their progress?

Once a grading period       20.5%

Once a semester                10.2%

Never                                     14.8%

Unsure                                  54.5%

What percentage of students are classified as special education in your district?

1-3%                       1.2%

4-6%                       4.7%

7-9%                       14.6%

10-12%                  13.6%

13-15%                  2.3%

15+%                      5.2%

I don’t know.        58.4%

What percentage of students are classified as 504 in your district?

1-3%                       2.4%

4-6%                       4.2%

7-9%                       2.3%

10-12%                  3.8%

13-15%                  1.6%

15+%                      4.0%

I don’t know.        81.6%

Are there particular school district practices you are personally aware of that result in restricting access to Special Education services?

Yes         32.1%

No           67.9%

If yes, please describe these practices.


Have you ever been advised by a colleague or supervisor not to refer students for Special Education services?

Yes         22.6%

No           77.4%

If so, please elaborate.


Have you received formal training on accommodating special education students in your classroom?

Yes         69.6%

No           30.4%

If yes, approximately how many hours?


In your experience, when children who are suspected of having a disability are denied special education evaluations and/or services, does this impact your ability to provide effective instruction to all children in the general education classroom?

Yes         56.5%

No           19.9%

Unsure 23.6%

If so, please elaborate.


Have you participated as a member of an ARD (admission, review and dismissal) committee?

Yes         94.2%

No           5.8%

If so, in what capacity?


If you have participated, are you able to speak freely in ARD/IEP meetings?

Yes         75.5%

No           18.5%

Not applicable     5.9%

If you answered “no,” in what specific ways did you feel restricted from speaking freely during the ARD/IEP meetings?


In your experience, are parents of students being evaluated for Special Ed services provided with adequate information regarding programs, their child’s  assessment, and their rights as parents of a special ed (or potential special education) student?

Yes         77.8%

No           22.2%

If no, please elaborate on the deficiencies you perceive.


Are non-English speaking parents provided with material pertaining to their child in their native language and is translation provided for parents at ARD and other conferences?

Yes         93.9%

No           6.1%


Does your district follow the general requirement that students be evaluated for special education services within 45 days of a referral from a teacher, parent or other professional?

Yes         63.8%

No           8.3%

Other (Explanation) 27.9%


In your experience, are certain demographic groups (e.g. racial, ethnic, gender, disability category, or age groups) that more likely than others to be denied special education evaluations and/or services?

Yes         1.6%

No           76.9%

Other (Explanation) 21.4%

Does your district issue any guidance to staff about referral for special education services that makes any reference to limiting such access, such as grade or age restrictions?

Yes         5.1%

No           76.3%

Other (Explanation) 18.5%

Are you aware of students who were receiving special education services in another district yet were not provided services in your district?

Yes         15.6%

No           84.4%

If yes, please explain.


In the past five years, has there been an increase in due process hearings filed by parents due to denying services?

Yes         7.2%

No           24.0%

Unsure 68.8%


In the past five years, has there been an increase in the number of complaints to TEA and the U.S. Office for Civil Rights (OCR)?

Yes         11.6%

No           15.1%

Unsure 73.3%


Have you participated in a special education audit?

Yes         30.0%

No           63.1%

Unsure 6.8%

If so, what did you have to do to prepare for the audit?


Level of teaching, if applicable

Elementary          46.5%

Middle                   5.4%

High                       20.3%

Not applicable     8.2%

Other (please specify) 9.6%

Years of teaching experience, if applicable

0-5 years               7.5%

6-10                        1.9%

More than 10      75.0%

Not applicable     5.6%

Sample of Comments from the Texas AFT Special Education Services Survey

In many instances I have been told that our numbers are too high, that we should be dismissing students from special education, not adding more. Administrators are evaluated on whether they are meeting the targeted numbers. (Teacher)

I have been told on more than one occasion that our SPED numbers can’t go over 8.5%. (Administrator)

Because of the unwritten but well-known “policy” …. Administrators, and especially teachers, are downright threatened by the district administration to not tell parents that we have the RIGHT to have our children evaluated to receive services. They don’t want to have the “bad statistics” or the costs associated with it. (Parent)

Non-English speakers are often overlooked for special education because there were no bilingual diagnosticians. Students who come in from another country, speaking no English, are not tested for a couple of years usually. (Teacher)

We have the programs aligned to high school feeder patterns. One each, regardless of need. If the program is “full,” access is denied. They are always posting our sped numbers at principal meetings and telling us to get the numbers down. (Administrator)

We were told by [TEA] representatives that we MUST reduce our number of special education students. The criteria for students to be identified changed dramatically, especially for students that qualified as learning disabled. Students were dumped out of special education as soon as their re-evaluations came due. We were told that our numbers could only be a certain percentage of the campus and district. Today I hear nearly every week about a student who is “too low” to qualify. (Teacher)

When a school has a larger than average proportion of special education students, for whatever the reason, it is very difficult to get a student referred unless they are violent. At the schools with few special education students, it is easy to refer students even for mild limitations. At the schools with higher frequency of special education students, it is difficult. (Teacher)

I have several teacher friends who have reported they were instructed by their principals NOT to refer students to SPED. And if parents asked, to delay the process until the following year. (Parent)

I was told students wouldn’t qualify [for special education]–not because they did not need services, but because the school had too many students in special education already. (Teacher)

Two years ago we were told we could only submit five names among the whole grade level because there were too many [special education students], so only the most severe would be looked at. (Teacher)

It takes months to refer a child and finally get them tested. We expect that no child will receive services until the second semester. Most who are tested wait for months until diagnosticians can get to them. Expected wait time is the maximum allowed, unless a parent complains. (Administrator)

[The cause of underidentifying] is the perceived costs of appropriate services for the length and duration needed by the child by the administration as well as limiting parental rights under IDEA by steering the students into a 504 plan, which allows the campus to “offer” what they have with limited parent recourse. (Parent)

The state evaluation system seemed to play a role in encouraging reduction of services, but money seemed to be the primary reason in my district.(Teacher)

The district and state want to save money and have been denying services for years. This is common knowledge among teachers and parents. The State and the district have been doing this on purpose and the excuse they give is that the students benefit more by being in an inclusive environment (without the services they need). (Teacher)

Students are more frequently denied services that might cost the district money or increase the number of students who have a more restrictive instructional arrangement, and teachers are told directly and indirectly not to request those services, such as 1:1 staffing for students with severe behaviors, pullout resource time, and co-teach. Teachers are encouraged to keep services to a minimum to keep costs down and reduce staffing requirements.(Teacher)

Yes, [our district] required us to take advantage of “intervention” services (tutoring for regular students) and because they kept my daughter from completely failing (when combined with our private dyslexia tutoring that we could never get through the school), they refused to do formal testing and provide specialized services for her dyslexia. Because we took extraordinary measures outside of school and our daughter working extremely hard to pass, the school refused services. Even when she was formally diagnosed with moderate dyslexia and mild ADHD, she was only given the accommodation of extra time on tests. They still refused to provide her with services to help with her dyslexia. (Parent)

“We simply do not have the personnel to serve all students that need special education services, so we only enroll the students that are the most severe.” (Teacher)

I personally was told at an ARD [meeting] that by putting my child in academic support, it would change his code and cost the district more money. They try and make you feel bad for requesting services. (Parent)

Parents are definitely not ADEQUATELY notified of their rights. (Administrator)

Sample of Comments on Services for Non-English-Speaking Students/Parents

Bilingual students were not to be referred…We were told they have language problem and would not qualify. (Teacher)

If they are considered limited English students, language is considered the barrier, not learning difficulties. (Teacher)

Many schools are handicapped when it comes to communicating with parents who are non-English speaking. There may not be anyone but an aide or cafeteria worker that speaks fluent  Spanish on campus. Often parents will bring in an older school-age child to translate for everyone. You can imagine how those translations may go. Who knows what they are saying to their parent. If it is another language other than Spanish or English, then forget about it, period! (Teacher)

Sometimes the translation is informal, such as using a Spanish teacher, rather than a Spec Ed translator, and that results in poor translation of technical terminology and should not be done. (Teacher)

Parents are not really explained what their rights are and in many cases the parents are either afraid or embarrassed to asked the proper questions. In some cases, I was instructed to refer the parent to an administrator if they had questions, and the administrator did not speak their language. (Teacher)

School personnel need to make sure that the individual translating for the parents is able to convey the intended messages to them. For example, I know that sometimes other siblings are asked to translate for the parents when the siblings themselves do not understand what an ARD is addressing. Sometimes the parents are given written material, but they cannot understand the jargon that it contains. (Teacher)

We provide translation when we can, but there is no money for paid translators. (Instructional Specialist)

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