special education

School children are pawns in the governor’s game


This being an election year, Gov. Abbott is playing a game of deception with the voters, and Texas’ vulnerable school children are the pawns. Actually, he has been playing a version of this game during his entire term, but now he is revving into overdrive.

Within a matter of a few days, Abbott has tried to convince the parents of children in need of special education services that he can provide what their families need and cut their taxes at the same time. He can’t.

To be clear, Abbott wasn’t responsible for the illegal cap that the Texas Education Agency imposed on special education enrollments in 2004, a limit that deprived tens of thousands of Texas children of the services to which they were entitled. Then-Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority ultimately were responsible for that insensitive act because the cap was prompted by their failure to adequately fund special education and other public school programs.

Abbott, however, is responsible for correcting the problem, and so far he is doing a lousy job. After news of the cap blew up on his watch, Abbott and the Legislature made sure last year that the cap was removed and wouldn’t be reimposed. But the governor refused to demand that the Legislature provide what special education families really need, more state funding for their public schools. And he turned his back on Speaker Joe Straus and the House majority, when they offered legislation to increase education funding. Instead, he endorsed another study – the umpteenth – of school finance by a commission that was to hold its first meeting today.

When the U.S. Department of Education formally notified Texas a couple of weeks ago that the special education cap had violated federal law, the governor quickly blamed school districts for the fiasco and ordered state Education Commissioner Mike Morath to immediately start correcting the problem.

Then, a few days later, Abbott unveiled a campaign proposal that, were it to become law, would squeeze special education services and all public education programs even harder. This is the governor’s “plan” to set an unreasonably low limit on local property taxes, including those levied by school districts, in order to allegedly provide “relief” to local taxpayers.

Because Abbott has allowed the state’s share of education funding to continue to drop to below 40 percent, his new political scam to limit property taxes would force more cuts in school funding for all students, including special education kids. Local property taxes are high, not because local school districts are wasting money, but because the governor and the state Senate majority refuse to provide adequate state funding for public education, period.

As a result, local property taxpayers now bear 60 percent of the cost of the Foundation School Program and will see their share increase to 62 percent next year. The remedy for high property taxes is more state funding for education, not election year gimmicks.

Morath, who wasn’t commissioner when the cap was imposed in 2004, has come up with a plan to address some of the special education issues. But it will fall short of meeting the needs of all special education students because Morath and the Texas Education Agency don’t have the authority to appropriate money and must act within the limits of the restrictive state budget signed by Abbott.

Abbott’s office has asked for public “feedback” on the TEA plan. Tell the governor to quit playing games with school children’s futures and demand that the Legislature adequately fund all school programs, including special education. Then, remember that elections have consequences, and we have been living through them. Go to the polls and Vote Education First.




Abbott talks tough while passing the buck on special education


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.

Feds say Texas illegally failed to educate students with disabilities




Gov. Abbott clueless on special ed needs


Parents of special education children who have been denied needed services in public schools may be hoping that Gov. Greg Abbott will lead the way to a solution. They better think again.

Abbott finally made some public comments on the state’s illegal cap on special education services – three months after news of it broke – and gave every indication of being utterly clueless about what to do about it.

Instead of vowing to address the crux of the problem by boosting state funding for under-funded special education programs and public schools in general, the governor announced plans to squeeze even more money out of school kids, including those in special education.

First, he proposed further cuts in the business franchise tax, an important source of revenue for education and other state services. He promoted and signed a significant reduction in that same tax two years ago, assuring that schools would remain under-funded and special education services would be limited. But Abbott’s short-sightedness about addressing crucial state needs apparently is unlimited.

And, topping that off, the governor suggested that diverting existing school funds to private school vouchers also could help special education families. As the Houston Chronicle, which reported the governor’s comments, noted, “it was not clear how such a program would work or how it would address the problems” caused by the Texas Education Agency’s 12-year-old cap on special education enrollments.

It wasn’t clear how it would work because it wouldn’t work.

Vouchers wouldn’t come close to meeting the costs of special education services in private schools, meaning that the vast majority of special education students would remain in public schools, whose special education programs would be further undermined by the diversion of tax dollars.

Also, there are no guarantees that the state would hold private schools accountable for their state funds or prohibit them from arbitrarily cherry-picking among students.

Anybody who wants the governor to take the lead in realistically addressing the needs of Texas’ special education children – beginning with more funding for public school programs – had been start contacting his office because, so far, he doesn’t seem to get it.

Here’s his contact information:








Neglected special ed kids are the victims of elections


Elections can have devastating consequences, and I am not talking about Donald Trump. I am talking about the tens of thousands of Texas children who have not been getting the special education services to which they are legally entitled and the people responsible for their neglect.

The fault does not lie with teachers, principals or school superintendents, and it only partially rests with the Texas Education Agency, which arbitrarily imposed an artificially low cap on special education enrollments 12 years ago and then tried to deny it after news of the outrageous act hit the fan.

The ultimate blame rests with Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, former Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority that for years now has been deliberately under-funding Texas’ public schools. TEA imposed the “de facto” special education cap in 2004, the year after Perry and the legislative majority made deep budgetary cuts to avoid raising state taxes and then ignored the consequences suffered by real people, including vulnerable special education kids, who have to rely on public services.

The same political mindset was in charge in 2011, when even deeper budget cuts, including $5.4 billion to public education alone, were imposed. While the legislative majority bragged about holding the line on taxes, disabled children and their parents, foster children and a host of other vulnerable Texans continued to suffer – out of sight and out of mind, as far as the budget-cutters were concerned.

Now, thousands of special education parents are outraged, while Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick and many of their colleagues in the legislative majority continue to resist calls for adequate school funding, even as they continue to win elections. Patrick claims vouchers are the answer, but they are not. Most private schools won’t accept students with significant special needs, and those that do charge tuition much higher than a voucher would cover.

State government is spending less to educate each public school student than it did 10 years ago, and on average is spending $2,700 less on each student than the national average.

The hundreds of special education parents who have been venting their anger at public hearings with state and federal bureaucrats this week have taken an important first step. Now, they need to take that anger where it really belongs — to the state Capitol — and direct it at the elected officials who ultimately are responsible for the neglect their children have been suffering.

Elections have consequences for real people, and so do budget cuts. Real people have to demand the help their children need, and they need to demand it from the elected officials who can do something about it but have been refusing to do so.