Texas State Senator Jose Rodriguez

Sen. Rodríguez, Rep. Wu Pass Bill to end Arbitrary Special Education ‘Target’

The Texas Legislature has passed and sent to the Governor SB 160, authored in the Senate by Sen. José Rodríguez and sponsored in the House by Rep. Gene Wu. The bill, passed late Tuesday, eliminates the Texas Education Agency’s “target” on  special education enrollment, which effectively acted as a cap.

“This ensures that children receive the services to which they are legally entitled,” Sen. Rodríguez said. “Parents must have a place at the table when schools design appropriate accommodations, and they have a right to have their child evaluated for special education services.”

Rep. Wu, who also had filed HB 713, which was swapped out for SB 160, said: “I am proud to be a part of the team that will help ensure that not one more child will suffer this injustice again. Nearly 200,000 children have been denied their constitutional right to an equal education. We must make sure this is never repeated.”

Rachel Gandy, policy fellow with Disability Rights Texas, said: “The Texas Legislature sent a clear message that students with disabilities in Texas public schools cannot be denied access to full educational opportunity by arbitrary agency action. SB 160 keeps the Texas Education Agency from ever imposing a monitoring standard on school districts that limits the number of students who may be identified as a child in need of special education services.”

Another bill to address issues related to educating children with disabilities, SB 436, passed the Senate Tuesday. SB 436 improves the Texas Special Education Continuous Advisory Committee (SECAC) by promoting more public participation. SECAC is the federally-mandated public body that provides guidance to TEA regarding special education services.

Special education advocates complain that the committee discourages public input at meetings, a view supported by TEA’s 2015 Sunset Review. Under SB 436, the committee must develop a public participation policy, and must post on its website contact information, meeting notices, and minutes. The committee and TEA will submit a report with recommended changes to state law and agency rule.

TEA adopted a monitoring policy that set an arbitrary 8.5 percent target for children receiving special education services in Texas public schools. Numerous parents, advocates, and school districts say the policy effectively served as a cap that drastically lowered the number of students receiving services for a variety of needs, including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and epilepsy. When the cap was implemented in 2004, Texas was comparable to the national special education enrollment average at about 12 percent. But by 2015, Texas reached TEA’s 8.5 percent target, the lowest special education enrollment in the nation.

Now, the cap subjects Texas to ongoing scrutiny from the U.S. Dept. of Education. Following a series of listening sessions attended by hundreds of people across Texas, DOE launched an investigation of 12 school districts. Parent advocates threatened to sue the state, and in March the TEA confirmed that it would eliminate the cap immediately.

Senate Bill 160 prohibits TEA from adopting a performance indicator that solely measures a school district’s total number or percentage of enrolled students that receive special education services. The bill makes clear, however, that TEA is not impaired in its requirements under federal law to monitor for disproportionality.