The Texas Education Agency tried to cover its bureaucratic posterior and transfer the blame to school districts for leaving tens of thousands of special education students without the required services to which they are entitled under federal law. But all the rhetoric in TEA’s “don’t blame us” letter to the federal government doesn’t change the fact that the agency was in the very middle of the mess.
TEA denied that its “Performance-Based Monitoring Analysis System” for special education was a cap on enrollment, but the fact remains that it resulted in districts limiting special education enrollment to 8.5 percent of students, a significant drop from the 12 percent of students receiving such services when the monitoring system was started in 2004.
The agency also said that the policy was not designed to save money, even though 2004, not so incidentally, was one year after the legislative majority had imposed budget cuts to deal with a budgetary shortfall. The legislative majority followed those cuts with $5.4 billion in additional education cuts in 2011, and millions of school children – including special education kids – continue to suffer the consequences.
TEA told the U.S. Department of Education that it “does not have any specific evidence indicating there has been a systematic denial of special education services to eligible students with disabilities.”
Yet, an investigation by the Houston Chronicle, which broke the story about the shameful policy, determined that as many as 250,000 children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, epilepsy, mental illnesses, speech impediments, blindness and deafness have been denied needed services.
The agency’s explanation doesn’t look like it will change the resolve of House Speaker Joe Straus and other legislators to address the issue. State Sen. Jose Menendez of San Antonio, for one, still plans to file legislation to force an end to the policy.
“I think it’s preposterous that they refuse to own up to this arbitrary cap,” Menendez told the Chronicle. “And if they can’t own up to it, how can I trust them when they say they’re going to eliminate it. If they can’t admit that it was wrong, how can I trust that they’ll fix it?”
Ending the policy is a good step. Lawmakers also need to increase education funding to discourage similar bureaucratic moves in the future.