Thanks to some poor decisions at both the state and local level, students with disabilities in Texas find themselves under-identified, underserved, underfunded and underachieving. Enabled Advocacy has joined a growing number of parents, teachers, advocates and disability organizations across Texas to form the Texans for Special Education Reform (TxSER). With the 85th session of the Texas Legislature now underway, we have the opportunity to strongly encourage lawmakers to affect positive change. There is no shortage of issues in need of attention. Among the more pressing matters are the following:
The Texas Education Agency does not operate with transparency or accountability. Its actions in creating and enforcing a cap on enrollment have resulted in a failure to identify and provide special education and related services to tens of thousands of children over the past 12 years. Removing the 8.5% cap is not going to fix the broken system that allowed this to happen in the first place. Changes must be made.
Once the 8.5% cap on enrollment is eliminated, the number of children qualifying for special education services should increase dramatically as those wrongfully denied services are reevaluated and new students with disabilities are identified. Districts will require additional resources and technical support to address the needs of this increasing student population.
Many children currently eligible for special education and related services are unable to obtain the therapeutic services they need. That's because last year, the Texas Legislature voted to cut $350 million in Medicaid benefits; the majority of which help pay for things like speech, physical and occupational therapy for disabled children. While Speaker of the House Joe Strauss has indicated an intent to reverse some of the cuts, Senate members are saying there is no money to do so.
Recognizing that the vast majority of students with disabilities have the capability to achieve at or above grade level given appropriate services and supports, the Every Student Succeeds Act requires all states to develop and implement a plan aimed at closing the performance gap between students with disabilities and those without. This will require reforming teacher and administrator preparation and training to promote collaboration and a sharing of responsibility for student outcomes among general and special educators as well as school administrators. SB 529 was filed by Senator Lucio in an effort to address this issue.
Whether these or any other matters affecting students with disabilities living in Texas will be addressed meaningfully during this session remains to be seen. The deadline for filing bills is March 10, 2017. As of today, a total of 2,808 bills have been filed. Only 20 even mention special education and 4 of those (HB 363, HB 713, SB 160 and SB 214) are to specifically prohibit the cap on enrollment. As the legislative session proceeds, I will be calling attention to those bills impacting children with disabilities providing information, hearing dates and opportunities for people to show their support. The more we stand up and speak out, the harder we will be to ignore.