Special Education

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Our Position

Texas' public school finance could be facing some radical changes in 2019. The Texas Legislature must NOT leave special education students behind in this overhaul by neglecting to make changes to special education programs, too. 

CTD applauds the 85th Legislature for eliminating the 8.5% cap on special education services. However, that was only the beginning of the reforms that must occur in order to give children and young adults with disabilities an opportunity to thrive in public school and become self-directed, independent adults. CTD supports additional legislation that provides school districts with guidance and the resources to address the current systemic failures in both the identification of special education students, and delivery of special education services.

Vouchers: CTD opposes the passage of any voucher program, and calls on Legislators to ensure that children with disabilities are adequately served in public and charter schools. Discussions about voucher programs are a distraction from constructive efforts to fix systemic flaws in the Texas special education system.

View our talking points



The Latest

May 20, 2020: Joint Letter: Texas Coalition for Healthy Minds (TCHM) calls on TEA to leverage existing resources, develop new ones to help school districts respond to the unprecedented social, emotional, and mental health barriers to learning that students across the state are experiencing



The 8.5% Cap

In the fall of 2016, the Houston Chronicle released their report Denied: How Texas Keeps Tens of Thousands out of Special Education, detailing the Texas Education Agency's (TEA) 8.5% cap on special education enrollment in public schools. Although long-standing Federal laws guarantee each person’s right to an appropriate education, an estimated 250,000 children have been excluded from necessary services and supports due to an arbitrary performance indicator that effectively created the cap. In Texas almost half of those who should qualify (12-13% is the national average) were denied services. The families of many others spent years battling to get their school districts to acknowledge their child’s disability and provide the services and supports necessary for them to learn and thrive.

In December 2016, the Department of Education (DOE) and TEA set up a blog and held a series of listening sessions around the state, the first opportunity for stakeholders to provide input to these agencies. Nearly one thousand concerned parents, educators, self-advocates, and allies told their painful stories of exclusion and failure. The listening sessions brought to light that the denial of services and marginalization of children needing special education services are systemic, revealing to many families that their own experiences were shared by others'.

The DOE ended their investigation with the conclusion that TEA had violated federal law by setting the cap. Our statement: "CTD joins the parents and advocates who feel vindicated by the DOE's conclusion and directive to TEA to take corrective action. However, it is shameful that the DOE had to get involved in the first place. In 2017, the Texas Education Agency and Texas legislature had a chance to address recovery and restitution for the kids that were harmed by TEA's 8.5% cap. They did not. CTD also extend our thanks to Gov. Abbott, who told TEA to come up with a plan in 7 days. We emphasize that if that plan's creation does not include parents and advocates focused on public education, it will be another failure. Finally, as this story continues we need to think about the deep cuts to Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) which prepares kids with disabilities for pre-k and kindergarten."

While TEA did commit to removing the 8.5% cap, the 2017 legislature went a step further, passing SB 160 (Sen. Jose Rodriguez) and effectively banning TEA from ever implementing a similar cap again. CTD and Disability Rights Texas took lead advocacy positions in pushing this bill. In addition, we led and supported efforts to pass a number of other special education reforms. Of the other 44 special education bills that we supported in some way, 17 passed, and we were able to move one or more from each targeted reform category: accountability, punishment, stakeholder input, innovation, reforms, and data collection.

However, as with so many areas, critical opportunities were missed in 2017 that could have been really awesome for a lot of kids. Legislators once again let intra-party squabbles get in the way of making sensible decisions, for example, in the failure of school finance reform (HB 21, Rep. Dan Huberty), which could have done much more for students with disabilities. The Senate’s insistence on a voucher program—any voucher program—derailed meaningful and long overdue reform.

School finance reform emerged as a priority for the 2019 legislature, but despite the efforts of many passionate advocates, education professionals, parents, and legislators, results for special education were mixed.

Further Reading