By Brian M. Rosenthal
October 4, 2016
AUSTIN – The federal government on Monday told Texas state officials that they must eliminate their special education enrollment target unless they can prove that it has not kept children with disabilities from getting services.
The U.S. Department of Education gave the officials a month to either provide the evidence or outline a plan to end so-called "PBMAS Indicator 10," which penalizes school districts that give specialized education to more than 8.5 percent of students.
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"It appears that the State's approach to monitoring local educational agency compliance under the PBMAS Indicator 10 may be resulting in districts' failure to identify and evaluate all students suspected of having a disability and who need special education," Sue Swenson, the department's acting assistant secretary for special education, wrote in a letter to the Texas Education Agency.
"Depending on TEA's response," Swenson wrote, the federal government "will determine whether additional monitoring activities or other administrative enforcement or corrective actions are necessary."
INVESTIGATION: How Texas keeps tens of thousands of kids out of special ed
The TEA, which has denied that children with disabilities have been kept out of special education but has promised to review the issue, said in a statement that it "welcomes the opportunity" to discuss its policies.
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The Houston Chronicle revealed the existence of the arbitrary target last month, reporting that the TEA quietly implemented the 8.5 percent benchmark without consulting the Texas Legislature, State Board of Education, federal government or any research.
The agency has required some school districts that serve more than 8.5 percent of kids to create "Corrective Action Plans," and schools have responded to the policy by making special education much harder to access, the Chronicle found.
When the policy began in 2004, about 12 percent of Texas students received some form of special education services such as tutoring, therapies and counseling. That was close to the longtime national average of roughly 13 percent.
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In the years since, the Texas percentage has plummeted to the lowest in the United States – by far.