The U.S. Department of Education is calling on Texas to take corrective action after citing the state for violating federal special education law.
State data shows that about 32,000 fewer students got special education services between the 2003-2004 school year and the last academic year, even though Texas' booming population saw classroom enrolment jump by around 1 million kids to 5.3-plus million over the same period.
Abbott ordered the agency to produce a draft of a corrective action plan within seven days, which he said should be shared with representatives of parent groups, special education advocacy groups and state educators and administrators. He also told the TEA to develop legislative recommendations to help ensure districts comply with federal and state special education laws.
Federal education officials say that for more than a decade Texas delayed and ultimately denied special education services to thousands of students with disabilities.
Federal officials first descended on Texas more than a year ago to investigate, and last year the state education agency scrapped all such benchmarks and the Legislature passed laws created to prohibit similar ones in the future.
This puts Texas well below the national special education enrollment average of 13 percent.
TEA has since scrapped the indicator and lawmakers passed legislation prohibiting the use of such indicators to exclusively measure the total percentage or number of kids receiving special education or related services.
I share Gov. Abbotts urgency to quickly address the issues identified in this federal monitoring report.
The federal investigation was prompted by a massive report from the Houston Chronicle in 2016.
"The past dereliction of duty on the part of many school districts to serve our students and the failure of TEA to hold districts accountable are worthy of criticism", Abbott wrote. "At the state and local level, the practices that led to the (Education Department) monitoring letter will end".
Texas Education Commissioner Michael Morath says his agency has already added 39 statewide special education support staff to work with school districts and better administer services.
Also, federal law mandates that states have advisory committees on special education, but Texas' languished for months because of a high number of vacancies. "The project was planned by a mission-driven team, dedicated to helping improve outcomes for our special education students". The state passed legislation a year ago that prohibits such targets.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a statement Thursday that she has been working directly with Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath to resolve the issues and ensure that "all children with disabilities are appropriately identified, evaluated and served under IDEA".
"Every child with a disability must have appropriate access to special education and related services that meet his or her unique needs", DeVos said in a written statement.