The state has set aside funds earmarked for families with special education services to offset COVID-19 pandemic costs.

The Supplemental Special Education Services are a partnership with the Texas Education Agency and Governor Greg Abbott’s office, TEA Deputy Commissioner Matt Montano said Monday.

The new program is for families with children who have significant cognitive disabilities, he said. Those are students with the most complex special education needs, such as Down syndrome, autism or cerebral palsy and those who likely have been most negatively impacted by remote learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If a family is approved, they will receive $1,500 per qualifying student in an account to access an online marketplace of resources, Montano said. Those resources can be curriculum, physical therapy or other services to help with their education needs.

To qualify, a student needs to have a significant cognitive disability and to have attended a Texas public school in the spring and this school year, he said.

Families will apply through an online portal, which is being finalized. Once approved, Montano said those who qualify have until the end of Spring 2022 to use the funds.

The funding is available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, he said. TEA anticipates being able to award close to 20,000 families with funds. However, if 20,000 qualified people do not apply, the amount distributed per student might be increased.

There are about 588,000 students with disabilities in the state, Montano said. Based on the criteria, about 60,000 would be eligible for SSES funds.

“Not only are we targeting these families with these most complex needs, but we’re also targeting low-income families. And we’re trying to make sure low-income families are aware of this, because we think it can really help them,” he said.

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Kristen is the News-Journal's education reporter. A Longview native, she got a journalism degree and a graduate certificate at Texas Tech University. She covers a variety of issues, including school finance, board meetings and happenings at local schools.