Other Voices: Special education enrollment improving but needs more work
By San Antonio Express-News
Dec. 12, 2017 at 12:09 a.m.
The percentage of special education students receiving services from public school districts in Texas is improving, but the state still lags behind the rest of the country.
While most states have special education enrollment in the double digits, in Texas it is only at 8.9 percent. It used to be 8.5 percent.
That's an improvement, but we must do better.
An investigation by the Houston Chronicle in 2016 found that the Texas Education Agency had quietly put a policy in place that encouraged school districts to cap their special education enrollment at no more than 8.5 percent.
The arbitrary limit was put in place without any research to justify the measure and appears to have been motivated by an attempt to keep costs down.
The revelation that an enrollment cap existed met with widespread public outcry, got the attention of the U.S. Education Department and prompted the Texas Legislature to pass a measure banning the setting of a cap on the number of students who can enroll in special education.
Latest figures from TEA show there were 477,281 students who received special education services during the 2016-17 school year. That is an increase of about about 14,000 over the previous year.
The Chronicle found tens of thousands of students with disabilities were not getting the special education services they needed due to a TEA policy that penalized school districts if they did not cap the number of students served.
The policy forced many families with few options to home-school their children.
That's not right.
Federal law mandates that public schools provide special education to "all" eligible children with disabilities. It does not give states the option of picking and choosing a limited number of special education students from the eligible population.
The small progress made in the past school year in special education enrollment is a welcome change of pace, but it is not enough. There are still many Texas children who are not getting the services they need.
Nationally, 13 percent of public school students were receiving special education services in 2016.
Texas developed a culture in its public schools that discouraged parents from seeking special education services for their children.
Those children did not stop needing those services just because they were inaccessible; they are still in the school system.
They cannot be left behind. They need to be identified and given the educational support they need.