Since 2004, children with special needs attending public schools in Texas have been denied access to specialized education services under an arbitrary benchmark set by the states Education Agency.
The rule disregards the national requirement that all disabled children enrolled within the public sector have access to the supports and services they require – a law passed by Congress in 1975.
An investigation by the Houston Chronicle published this month found that the Texas Education Agency has restricted access to special education services, allowing access to only 8.5 percent of children attending a school within the public sector. The state reached this ‘target’ in 201, which is well below the national average of 13 percent.
Nationally, Texas has the lowest percentage of students who receive special education services. In fact, the report found that if Texas provided special education at the same rate as all other states, there would be 250,000 more children receiving critical supports such as counselling, one-on-one tutoring and therapy.
The Chronicle heard from more than a dozen education professionals in the state, including teachers and administrators, conveying methods utilized to deny or delay access to special education in order to stay below the 8.5 percent benchmark. One tactic employed includes moving children into alternative programs that are significantly cheaper to run, known as ‘Section 504’.
“We were basically told in a staff meeting that we needed to lower the number of kids in special ed at all costs,” said Jamie Womack Williams a past teacher at the Tyler Independent School District, “It was all a numbers game.”
The report states that Texas is the only state to ever implement set targets for enrollment in special education.
Education advocate Jonothon Kozol asserted that the practice was “disturbing” and “completely incompatible with federal law. It looks as if they’re actually punishing districts that meet the needs of kids.”
The Texas Education Agency released a statement in response to these claims denying that they had restricted access to special education programs and stated that the 8.5 percent figure was used as an “indicator” of school performance. A spokeswoman for the Dallas Independent School District (ISD) noted that the 8.5 percent figure is a measurement to identify an “acceptable range.”
Officials with the Texas Education Agency declared that the reason why public schools in the state have declined so dramatically over the past decade was due to new teaching techniques.
However, the Chronicle found that:
“[S]pecial education rates have fallen to the lowest levels in big cities, where the needs are greatest. Houston ISD and Dallas ISD provide special ed services to just 7.4 percent and 6.9 percent of students, respectively. By comparison, about 19 percent of kids in New York City get services. In all, among the 100 largest school districts in the U.S., only 10 serve fewer than 8.5 percent of their students. All 10 are in Texas.”
The U.S Department of Education is investigating the Texas policy after receiving a copy from the Chronicle.
The number of children that have a disability who require special education services remains unclear. Based on data from the Center for Disease and Control Prevention, the closest approximation is 15.4 percent nationally.
A copy of the investigative report is available on the Houston Chronicle website.