Give Gov. Abbott some credit…but not too much. When the need arises, he can talk tough, especially on the eve of a reelection campaign. But most of the issues that cross the governor’s desk require more than talk, and that includes special education. And that’s where he still falls short.
When the federal government announced Thursday that Texas had violated federal law by denying tens of thousands of Texas children access to special education services, Abbott promptly issued a sternly worded letter blaming school districts for a “dereliction of duty” and directing Education Commissioner Mike Morath to begin preparing an “initial corrective action plan” within seven days.
“Parents and students across our state cannot continue waiting for change,” he wrote.
But then what, governor?
The Texas Education Agency shares blame for the special education fiasco, but it isn’t the real culprit. Neither are school districts. TEA quietly imposed an arbitrary cap on special education enrollment years ago, before Morath became commissioner or Abbott became governor. The cap, which was removed last year, was a symptom of a deeper problem – the inadequate state funding of special education services and other public education programs.
Abbott couldn’t do anything about education funding back then, but he can now, and so far he has refused to do so. During three legislative sessions as governor over the past three years, Abbott has shut the door on efforts to give public schools the level of state resources they need for special education and a host of other services.
Most recently, during last summer’s special session, Abbott’s “answer” for special education families was a plan to take tax dollars away from public schools and turn it over to private schools in the form of tuition vouchers. Fortunately, the House killed that idea, which ignored the fact that many private schools don’t provide comprehensive special education services and don’t want to. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, meanwhile, slammed the door on legislation passed by the House to increase public school funding.
In the wake of the new federal report, Morath plans to beef up special education support staff and take what other steps he can – within budget constraints set by Abbott and the Legislature.
And Abbott will continue to talk and blame everyone else for the problem.