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Other Voices: Texas must stop dragging its feet on special education

The Dallas Morning News

Sometimes it is better to put off for tomorrow what should’ve been done today. But when it comes to helping Texas students in special education, that shouldn’t be the motto of the agency under pressure to fix a system that’s been broken for more than a decade.

If you aren’t up to speed on this issue, it might just be because it’s an important issue that hasn’t gotten anywhere near the attention it deserves.

Here is what’s going on: Nearly two years ago, the federal government conducted an investigation into special ed in the Lone Star State and found some very disturbing things. In short, the feds concluded that school districts turned away students who qualified for special education. The net result was that the state saved money (special education isn’t cheap), but those who really paid the price for this were the very students who are supposed to be enrolled in special education over the course of a decade.

Now, a year and a half later, the Texas Education Agency says it needs extra time to implement a federally mandated overhaul. It wants a new deadline of June 2020. Keep in mind the TEA originally said it could implement its reforms by January 2019, so it is already six months late.

Frustrating? Well, you might say that. Our response here is to say it’s absolutely crucial to get these reforms right, but the TEA shouldn’t just be able to count on getting lenient extensions of its timeline. It needs to be open and transparent about what’s going on, it needs to adopt a sense of urgency, and it needs to acknowledge that each year that slips by is a year lost by those who are counting on special education.

The inevitable rippling effect of TEA’s delays are already apparent. Texas’ school finance system, for example, is now waiting to provide recommendations to help students with disabilities until the TEA’s promised changes are made.

Meanwhile, students are seeing this in the classroom. Texas is facing a shortage of quality teachers statewide as schools scramble to accommodate students.

These concerns alone call for immediacy. But by moving its target date to June 2020, the TEA is signaling that it hasn’t given special education the priority and attention it deserved.

At this point, there’s not much that can be done except for putting a spotlight on the TEA and pressuring it to make it right it in the end.

Texas needs to make it clear that all of its children are a priority. As it is, only 41 percent of special education students in the state are approaching grade level in reading and math, compared with 75 percent of all Texas students.

Texas is a great state, but this state of affairs shouldn’t stand. We need to get special education right, and sooner rather than later.

— Frank Thomas Pool is a writer and a retired English teacher in Austin. He grew up on Maple Street in Longview and graduated from Longview High School. His column appears Tuesday.

Today's Bible verse

“Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.’ ”

John 8:34

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