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U.S. Department of Education: Texas failed to educate students with disabilities

The U.S. Department of Education released today the findings of monitoring activities relating to Texas Education Agency's (TEA) compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This comes after the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the Department initiated monitoring following reports about the significant decline in the number of children identified as children with disabilities eligible for special education and related services in Texas.

The monitoring report lists three specific areas in which TEA failed to comply with Federal law:

TEA failed to ensure that all children with disabilities residing in the State who are in need of special education and related services were identified, located and evaluated, regardless of the severity of their disability.

TEA failed to ensure that a free appropriate public education (FAPE) was made available to all children with disabilities residing in the State in Texas's mandated age ranges (ages 3 through 21).

TEA failed to fulfill its general supervisory and monitoring responsibilities to ensure that Independent School Districts throughout the State properly implemented the IDEA's child find and FAPE requirements.

"Every child with a disability must have appropriate access to special education and related services that meet his or her unique needs," said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. "Far too many students in Texas had been precluded from receiving supports and services under IDEA. I've worked directly with Commissioner Morath on resolving these issues, and I appreciate the Texas Education Agency's efforts to ensure all children with disabilities are appropriately identified, evaluated and served under IDEA. While there is still more work to be done, leaders in the state have assured me they are committed to ensuring all students with disabilities can achieve their full potential."

In 2004, Texas implemented a special education representation indicator of 8.5 percent to measure the percentage of students enrolled in special education and related services. OSEP found that indicator resulted in a declining identification rate of children with disabilities in Texas. Data from TEA demonstrates the number of children identified as children with disabilities under IDEA declined from the 2003-2004 to 2016-2017 school years by 32,000 students, while total enrollment in Texas schools grew by more than one million students.

As early as November of 2016, TEA began taking steps to address initial concerns expressed by OSEP, including issuing a letter to every independent school district in the State reiterating their child find responsibilities under the IDEA. TEA supported OSEP in obtaining necessary information throughout the Department's monitoring, including coordinating a series of listening sessions throughout the State which were attended by both OSEP and TEA staff.

Additionally, Governor Abbott, with the Texas legislature, implemented a new law that prohibits the use of school performance indicators that solely measure total number or percentage of enrolled children receiving special education and related services under the IDEA.

Governor Abbott today sent a letter to TEA Commissioner Mike Morath directing him to take immediate steps to prepare an initial corrective action plan within the next seven days to reform special education in Texas.

In his letter to Commissioner Morath, Governor Abbott expressed his deep concern with the current state of special education in Texas and stated that more must be done to adequately address the needs of our most vulnerable students.

"The past dereliction of duty on the part of many school districts to serve our students, and the failure of TEA to hold districts accountable, are worthy of criticism," said Governor Abbott. "TEA must take steps now to significantly increase the oversight provided to ensure our special education students are receiving the services they deserve. But while the problems identified in the report started long before your arrival at TEA, our parents and students demand significant actions be taken now to improve special education in Texas."

While federal officials have provided no definitive timeline for TEA, Governor Abbott has called for an initial corrective action plan draft within the next seven days. Following the completion of the initial plan, it will be shared with representatives of parent groups, special education advocacy groups, as well as administrators and educators throughout the state.

Additionally, the Governor has asked TEA to develop potential legislative recommendations that will help ensure local school districts are in compliance with all federal and state laws regarding special education.

Commissioner Morath has issued the following statement in response to the Governor’s directive:

“I share Gov. Abbott’s urgency to quickly address the issues identified in this federal monitoring report. More importantly, I share the Governor’s commitment to doing what’s right for special education students in our public schools.

"The corrective action plan called for by the Governor will outline the specific steps TEA will take to address all the identified issues. Parent and special education advocacy group representatives will play an ongoing integral role in helping shape this plan, as well as all efforts of the agency in the years ahead. My top priority has and continues to be to improve outcomes for all students in Texas.”

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