Feds find Texas illegally capped eligibility for special-education services

The U.S. Department of Education today announced that the Texas Education Agency illegally limited eligibility for services for students with disabilities under a policy informally capping at 8.5 percent the number of eligible students. The finding confirms what the Houston Chronicle initially revealed in a series of investigative reports—reportage strongly reinforced by a 2016 survey of Texas AFT members and in further inquiries by federal officials.

As the Texas Tribune reported today:

A U.S. Department of Education investigation concluded Thursday that Texas violated federal law by failing to ensure students with disabilities were properly evaluated and provided with an adequate public education.

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.

It also told TEA that it needs to take several corrective actions, including producing documentation that the state is properly monitoring school districts’ evaluations for special education, developing a plan and timeline for TEA to ensure that each school district will evaluate students previously denied needed services, and creating a plan and timeline for TEA to provide guidance to educators on how to identify and educate students with disabilities.

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath responded to the USDE findings today by vowing to take prompt corrective action. TEA had previously denied imposing any cap on eligibility for services for students with disabilities.

Steven Aleman, an advocate with Disability Rights Texas, responded to the federal finding today with this comment:

Texas students with disabilities who have been ignored and shunned by the special education system have some measure of validation today. The federal government’s finding that the Texas Education Agency has neglected its duty to ensure that each student suspected of having a disability be referred, evaluated and appropriately identified comes as no surprise to parents and advocates. The Commissioner of Education must immediately embrace the corrective actions required by the U.S. Department of Education and take additional steps, in collaboration with stakeholders, to ensure that all students who were previously denied special education services now rightfully receive compensatory services.

Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro said, “Texas AFT members will be watching and working to make sure that the federal government’s demand for corrective action in compliance with federal law is met by the state of Texas without delay and with fully adequate funding for the public school services and resources these students deserve.”