- A new report released this week by the Texas Education Agency shows the state increased its special education funding by nearly $1 billion over a four-year period, with the latest expenditure at $4.02 billion for the 2019-20 school year.
- The state has drastically increased its special ed funding after a federal investigation and media reports showed Texas in violation of IDEA, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, when it arbitrarily capped the number of students with disabilities it served at 8.5%.
- The TEA report also shows the state increased the number of students with disabilities it served by 54,710 over a two-year time period. It also increased by 56% the number of students with disabilities it evaluated during that time period, from 88,962 in the 2016-17 school year to 138,543 in 2018-19.
According to state data, the percentage of students with disabilities Texas serves has increased to about 9.25% in 2017-2018, up from 8.5% in 2015. But the less than 1% increase means the state still remains below the national average of 14%.
A federal investigation in 2018 prompted by a series of reports from the Houston Chronicle found Texas in violation of IDEA, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, when the state arbitrarily capped the number of students with disabilities it served at 8.5%.
“Far too many students in Texas had been precluded from receiving supports and services under IDEA,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in a statement at the time. “I’ve worked directly with TEA Commissioner [Mike] Morath on resolving these issues, and I appreciate the Texas Education Agency’s efforts to ensure all children with disabilities are appropriately identified, evaluated and served under IDEA."
In response to the investigation, Gov. Greg Abbott sent Morath a letter requiring the TEA to reform its special education program. Then, in 2019, the passage of House Bill 3 increased yearly public school funding by $3.4 billion, which TEA says in its report was partly invested in special ed.
The mismanagement of funding and other resources for students with disabilities is not unique to Texas. In New Mexico, a random investigation of the the Questa Independent School District found special needs students were denied services despite a budget large enough to cover the expenses required.
In another investigation by Maryland in 2004, the state found Baltimore misused $90,000 worth of special education funding.
The U.S. Department of Education itself has previously been found in violation of IDEA, when a federal judge found Education Secretary Betsy DeVos delayed enforcement of rules requiring states to oversee and address any racial disparities in special education.
Considering recent changes to IDEA guidance, after the Education Department abolished 72 guidance documents detailing the rights of students with disabilities, keeping up with the federal law can be tricky but just as important.