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.