Arsonist Vows to Fight Fire It Started in Austin ISD

Education Austin President Ken Zarifis speaks to the press about the Texas Education Agency’s plan, flanked by union members. 

Just weeks after the Texas Education Agency announced its plans to remove the democratically elected school board of Houston ISD, it has now signaled its intentions to place Austin ISD under a conservatorship. 

The move comes after a TEA investigation of the district’s special education department, in which the agency discovered “systemic issues.” As The Texas Tribune reports, TEA said the district failed to evaluate students in need of special education services and to provide those services to eligible students.

It is worth noting here that TEA itself remains under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for failing to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, federal special education law. 

The problems within Austin ISD’s special education services are well-documented and well-known to our own members in the district, who have spoken out repeatedly on the matter. But as Education Austin noted in its statement about TEA’s plans, many of these “systemic issues” arise from the state’s shameless history of special education underfunding. 

“With a state that is one of the lowest in per-pupil funding and an education agency that put an illegal and arbitrary cap on special education identification for over a decade until the federal government forced them to stop, it is no wonder there are enormous challenges in SpEd programs across Texas,” read Education Austin’s statement

That is a reference to Texas’ long history of balancing its budget on the backs of public school children. In 2004, as a money-saving maneuver, TEA implemented an arbitrary cap on the number of students who could receive special education services. That cap remained in place until a 2016 Houston Chronicle investigation brought it to light. 

While the current situation in Austin ISD differs from the complete takeover TEA announced last month for Houston ISD, it is well worth noting that the agency has rapidly made two bold moves to interfere with the state’s largest and fourth-largest districts — and while the governor continues to push school privatization at the Capitol. 

“If TEA is sending conservators to help the district, then so be it, but do just that: help,” read Education Austin’s statement. “Unfortunately, Education Austin has little faith in TEA’s sincerity to help when it sees the ‘help’ TEA and its conservators provided Houston ISD.” 

Austin ISD has until April 17 to appeal TEA’s decision.

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