Category Archives: special education

Commissioner update on Santa Fe shooting, STAAR glitches

Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) opened Thursday’s interim meeting of the House Committee on Public Education by acknowledging the tragic school shooting in the town of Santa Fe, south of Houston. The chairman invited Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath to update the committee on the agency’s response to date.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath addressing House Public Education Committee May 24, 2018.

Morath indicated that the agenda is providing attendance waivers and working to secure federal school violence funds for Santa Fe ISD. The commissioner is participating in a series of roundtable discussions on school shootings hosted this week by Gov. Greg Abbott, and testified that he is evaluating ideas raised in these discussions to determine which are actionable. While some ideas could be implemented by the agency, others would require legislative action.

“The challenges are legion,” said Morath, noting that Texas is home to some 8,600 school campuses.

Elaborating on the school violence funds available from the U.S. Department of Education through Project SERV (School Emergency Response to Violence) grants, Morath said Broward County Florida, the site of the Parkland school shooting, received roughly a million dollars. Any additional federal funding would likely require a congressional appropriation.

Asked by Chair Huberty to explain the delay in information reaching Santa Fe High School parents on the day of the shooting, Morath explained medical reporting on casualties and the process of investigating and securing the premises both took time. Morath pointed out the response included 12 law enforcement agencies, and suggested more interdisciplinary drills could be helpful.

Wrapping up the discussion, Huberty indicated that he has been involved in talks with other state leaders to develop a joint effort to address school shootings next session.

Huberty also asked the commissioner to update the committee on the most recent glitch during STAAR test administration. Morath said the latest involved 29,000 mostly special education students who were taking the test online. A subcontractor for ETS, the test administrator, was performing a “bug fix” that resulted in servers dramatically slowing down. The agency is issuing a letter to administrators regarding the problem and is waiving School Success Initiative (SSI) requirements for Fifth grade students affected by the glitch. These 29,000 students will be factored out of local and district accountability unless including them would raise campus and district scores.

Huberty point out this is the second year in the past three to see problems under the ETS contract. Morath testified the agency has levied a $100,000 fine against ETS and will rebid the contract beginning in June.

Expenditures working group addresses special ed

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on expenditures led by state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) met Friday at the Texas Capitol to discuss special education spending.

As he testified in Thursday’s meeting of the full commission, Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez testified the total state special education allotment in fiscal year 2018 is estimated at over $3 billion. This allotment is distributed according to subordinate weighted funding calculations for different instructional settings and is tied to contact hours. This year, 490,000 students are enrolled in special education, marking an increase of 40,000 since lawmakers ended TEA’s de facto 8.5 percent cap on special education enrollment.

School finance commission working group on expenditures meeting May 4, 2018.

Steven Aleman with Disability Rights Texas (DRT) and Kristin McGuire with the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE) testified that special education is a service, not a place. Furthermore, they testified that the current weights are outdated and the funding formula is not transparent. McGuire said inclusive settings are almost always the most desired outcome, but the system is not set up with this in mind. The current funding weights haven’t been updated since 1993.

McGuire noted that many dyslexic students are not receiving adequate services, and the State Board of Education (SBOE) is in the process of updating the dyslexia handbook. Commission and SBOE Member Keven Ellis (D-Lufkin) confirmed the board hopes to finalize a new handbook in the fall.

Aleman suggested reducing the number of steps involved in calculating special education funding, which could save districts money currently spent on consultants need to aid in navigating the funding process. Aleman also suggested undertaking a systemic study of the costs of weights, settings and services, and suggested weights should be updated. Additionally, the state should move toward a service intensity-based funding system, as opposed to a setting-based system, and should extend special education services to students with disabilities that are currently classified differently, such as under Section 504.

Responding to questions from the working group members regarding the true cost of special education services, McGuire said advocates nationwide have struggled to get a concrete handle on the subject. Huberty indicated that advocates need to offer hard numbers if they believe additional funding is necessary.

Justin Porter, Executive Director for Special Populations at TEA, responded to a number of questions from the board. Porter testified that children struggling with reading or math who may not have exhibited a clear disability and are currently served through interventions would be the most likely population to comprise a majority of students entering the special education program as a result of doing away with the special education cap. Huberty noted these would likely be students with dyslexia, autism or related disorders. Dyslexic students are served by the special education system in many other states, but that is not the case in Texas.

Porter testified that absentee rates among special education students could anecdotally be attributed to services outside of the public school setting, such as medical procedures, and indicated that untethering funding from daily attendance for special education students may be worth consideration. Working group members also asked TEA for a breakdown of the sources of funding used to provide transportation to special education students.

Regarding Section 504, Porter said TEA has no authority over 504, but is trying to offer more guidance to school districts in this area. Porter suggested 504 protections are generally offered to students in need of a variety of accommodations, such as those suffering from food allergies.

Huberty concluded by suggesting that providing resources for parents to spend outside the classroom may be more effective than increasing resources in the classroom, and suggested advocates bring more solutions to the table.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 27, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


This May, many Texans will be making not one, but two trips to the ballot box. ATPE wants to ensure that all educators are aware of the two important elections taking place next month.

Saturday, May 5th is the uniform election date when municipal propositions, elections, and issues will be decided. Meanwhile, Tuesday, May 22nd is when state level primary runoff elections will be held. While any registered voter can participate in the May 5th municipal election, participation in the primary runoffs depends on whether you previously voted in the March primaries and in which primary election you voted.

For more information about the candidates and your eligibility to vote in the upcoming primary runoffs, check out this new blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

 


Texas has a new “Grow Your Own” grant program designed by the Texas Rural Schools Taskforce to address  challenges faced by rural school districts and foster a more robust and diverse teaching force. This week, TEA released the names of the 25 school districts that received the 2018-19 “Grow Your Own” grant. Read more about them in this blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Specialist Bria Moore.

 


The Texas Education Agency has finalized its plan to address special education. Professional development for special education teachers; resources and outreach for parents of special needs children; funding at the district level for students previously denied access to special education services; and additional staffing and resources were the four final measures proposed by TEA in its efforts to redress issues plaguing special education in the state. While the proposed measures would cost the state $212 million over the next five years, TEA is unable to commit additional funds to support the plan leaving the burden to fund these measures on the shoulders of the 86th Legislature which is set to reconvene in 2019. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann explains more about the plan in this blog post.

 


Houston ISD has notified district teachers of its plan to begin staff layoffs. As reported by the Houston Chronicle this afternoon, district employees received correspondence informing then that an unspecified number of layoffs would begin shortly due to budget constraints in the district. The financial strain of Hurricane Harvey coupled with new recapture woes have resulted in a projected deficit of $115 million for the district. The HISD administration has said that the number of layoffs will depend on how many teachers leave the district through attrition at the end of this school year.

Today’s announcement comes on the heels of a highly contentious HISD board meeting earlier this week that was shut down when protests broke out over a planned vote to turn over management of some of the district’s struggling campuses to a charter school operator. That move is part of a plan authorized by new legislation that ATPE opposed in 2017. Schools otherwise facing closure have an option to partner with charter holders for a temporary pause in their progressive sanctions, and HISD has proposed this course of action for 10 of its campuses despite heavy opposition from the community. Waco ISD also took similar action this week, opting to partner with a charter operator to avoid the closure of five struggling campuses in that district.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on this developing story.

 


TEA finalizes plan to improve special education

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has released its final action plan to address special education in Texas, which has been under scrutiny since 2017. That’s when reporting unveiled what the agency is now acknowledging was an arbitrary and illegal benchmark for the amount of students receiving special education services. After intervention from the federal government and significant stakeholder feedback, TEA’s final plan seeks to repair systematic issues that, in part, denied special education services to a disturbingly large number of Texas schoolchildren.

In a press release issued yesterday, TEA identified four major actions under the plan: a special education professional development system for educators; resources for parents of students who may need special education services and an accompanied outreach effort; funding for school districts providing services to students previously denied; and additional staffing and resources at TEA to support special education services and increase oversight.

TEA has identified some funding for administration of the plan, but highlights that “TEA cannot legally commit additional funds outside of those that are appropriated by the Texas Legislature and the US Congress.” The agency said the plan is designed to work within existing appropriations and identifies a proposed budget of $212 million over the next five years. Stakeholders have argued funding is insufficient to produce effective delivery of the plan, but it will be up to the legislature to allocate additional money for the purpose of increasing adequate services under the plan. The plan does include a commitment from TEA to request additional funding from the 86th Legislature during the 2019 regular session for local special education needs.

The state’s final strategic special education plan and more related information can be viewed at TEA’s Improving Special Education in Texas webpage. The full press release announcing the final plan can be found here.

SBOE committee update: Dyslexia, CPE changes

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met in committees Thursday morning. Members of the Committee on Instruction considered a number of items related to students with dyslexia. The first involves amending current administrative rules to strengthen the evaluation procedure used in determining whether a student has dyslexia, as well as providing more information to parents regarding the process and evaluator credentials.

Texas SBOE Committee on Instruction meeting April 12, 2018.

Additionally, members of the committee heard testimony regarding potential changes to the Dyslexia Handbook. Revisions are being considered in order to implement provisions of House Bill (HB) 1886, which aimed to improve early identification and support for students with dyslexia and related disorders. Much of the public testimony regarded the value of highly trained educators and therapists as well as well-crafted programs, and noted the reason for shortages in these areas often revolves around insufficient funding.

Parents noted that many rural schools are understaffed, and dyslexia teachers may pay for training themselves. One witness, a Section 504 Coordinator from Frisco ISD, suggested the handbook not forget the importance of identifying older students who may have missed being identified as dyslexic, often as a result of high-level performance or transferring from out-of-state schools. Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff indicated work is being done with stakeholder committees to prepare revisions in time for the board to vote at their September meeting. Changes would be effective beginning with the 2018-2019 school year.

The Committee on School Initiatives meanwhile turned its attention to educator certification and continuing professional education (CPE). The committee advanced a rule change passed by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) that would require educator preparation programs to do a better job of informing candidates who may be ineligible to gain certification for a variety of reasons.

Members also advanced a SBEC rule change resulting from Senate Bill (SB) 7, SB 1839, and SB 179, which added CPE requirements regarding inappropriate teacher-student relationships, digital literacy, and grief and trauma training, respectively. While the original rule required educators to regularly select from a list of CPE topics not to exceed 25 percent in any one particular subject, the new rule will require educators to allocate their CPE hours so that every subject is covered.

The committee is scheduled to meet Thursday afternoon to discuss public feedback on the Long-Range Plan for Public Education, and several SBOE members are expected to attend in addition to those already on the committee. Check back with TeachTheVote.org for updates from this meeting.

Commissioner update on STAAR glitches, SpEd plan, NAEP

The State Board of Education (SBOE) kicked off its April meeting Wednesday with an update from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath.

Morath informed the board that the agency will seek an amendment to the state’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in order to implement changes to the accountability system under House Bill (HB) 22 passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. The agency released its accountability framework on Tuesday.

Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting April 11, 2018.

With testing week underway, Morath updated the board on a recent glitch with the STAAR exam. According to the commission, the failure of a single server caused a roughly 20-minute disruption in the exam. No data were lost, although 40,000 students were affected and forced to log out, then log back in, while taking the exam online. Some 1,000 school systems had one or more students affected, and it appears the glitch was largely confined to those taking the English I end of course (EOC) exam, although exceptions have been reported. Roughly 460,000 tests have been taken online so far.

SBOE Member Pat Hardy (R-Fort Worth) suggested the board avoid scheduling meetings during testing week in the future, as it makes it nearly impossible for educators to get time off to attend board meetings or to testify before the board. TEA staff indicated they are aware of the scheduling conflict and are working toward avoiding such a situation in the future.

The commissioner next proceeded to run down the state’s recent results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Texas saw a slight decline in 4th grade math proficiency this year and has experienced a downward trend in 8th grade math since 2011. The state has been a middling performer in 4th grade reading and saw a slight recent dip. Scores on 8th grade reading have been similarly flat, with a slight recent decline. Morath called the NAEP scores “somewhat disappointing nationally.”

“It does appear that accountability matters a great deal, and resources appear to be a factor,” Morath added.

Member Hardy pointed out that Texas has different demographic challenges than other states; in particular, it is home to a high percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged. Hardy suggested this makes for apples-to-oranges comparisons to other states when it comes to national test scores. Morath conceded Hardy’s point, but noted that “life doesn’t grade on the curve.” The commissioner warned the real world deals in absolutes, and suggested it’s important to celebrate success where appropriate while continuing to pursue improvement.

Finally, Morath updated the board on the agency’s corrective action for special education. A January letter from the U.S. Department of Education found Texas was deficient in three areas of special education: Child find, providing a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), and compliance monitoring.

According to the commissioner, the core corrective action response will be provided to the federal government for compliance purposes, while a strategic plan for the state will focus on broader reforms. The commissioner identified five key components of the strategic plan: State monitoring, identification, evaluation, and placement; training, support, and development; student, family, and community engagement; and support networks and structures. The final corrective action response is due to the federal government April 23.

Responding to funding questions from Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin), Morath indicated the agency has already begun making staffing changes with federal funds available to the agency under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The agency has already hired 34 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in order to begin implementing the necessary changes. The nature of the plan calls for spending shifts in allocation. The state is allocated roughly $100 million in IDEA funds each year, all of which Morath said are being “re-tooled” concomitant with the corrective action plan.

Asked by Ellis how formula funding under the Foundation School Program (FSP) would be affected by the plan, Morath said the special education formulas are “quite sophisticated,” making it hard to give a specific number. As a ballpark estimate, Morath estimated the plan would add another $5,000 for each new special education student. The agency estimates another 200,000 students could enter the system, which would translate to about $1 billion in additional FSP funding. Morath noted the figures are only rough estimates, and actual funding would depend upon which services are provided to each child under his or her individualized education program (IEP).

Member Sue Melton-Malone (R-Waco) asked about training provided to educators under the plan. The commissioner said the agency is preparing to launch a statewide professional development network involving summer programs and ongoing training. This training will be primarily targeted at mainstream setting educators.

On a separate note, Member Lawrence Allen, Jr. (D-Houston) voiced concern to Commissioner Morath over the board’s lack of oversight of contracts between school districts and charter schools as a result of Senate Bill (SB) 1882 passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. This bill provides financial incentives and a pause in accountability ratings for districts to contract with a charter holder, nonprofit or higher education institution to operate a campus under a “partnership” model in which the district surrenders control entirely to the operator. As ATPE has warned, this has potentially troubling implications for school staff and students in the feeder pattern.

While the SBOE has the final authority to approve new charters, it has no formal input regarding these arrangements. Rather, each contract must be approved by the commissioner. Agreeing with Allen, Member Hardy warned that charters may be less faithful to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), which are required curriculum approved by the board.

The board is scheduled to consider a variety of items Wednesday, including potential action regarding the creation of a Mexican American Studies class. Continue to check TeachTheVote.org for further updates from this week’s SBOE meeting.

TEA seeking public input on special education plan

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Tuesday it is accepting public comments on the draft strategic plan for special education through noon, April 18.

As reported previously at Teach the Vote, the agency released its Draft Special Education Improvement Plan and Corrective Action Response last month to fix critical failures in the state’s special education system. The draft plan varies little from an initial draft the agency circulated in January, and the agency is seeking additional input on the latest version. You can e-mail feedback to TexasSPED@tea.texas.gov.

The plan carries a $211 million price tag, which does not include a substantial cost anticipated to be incurred by local school districts. The districts will be expected to perform the bulk of the work meeting the needs of children who were wrongfully denied special education services in the past due to districts’ following a TEA directive to limit special education enrollment. Because of this funding challenge, many school administrators are warning they will need additional financial support from the state in order to properly serve qualifying children. The Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE) noted this in a press release last month, saying the TEA plan “is rich with school district monitoring and compliance measures, but fails to offer adequate financial and other support to districts.” Read the full TCASE press statement here.

The TEA will aggregate feedback and send a final version of the special education improvement plan to the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the U.S. Department of Education by April 23, 2018.

TEA releases draft of special education corrective actions

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released an initial draft plan Thursday in response to an order from the U.S. Department of Education to implement corrective actions to ensure all special education students receive the supports guaranteed under federal law. The federal action comes in response to the denial of special education services to Texas children resulting from a de facto “cap” maintained by the agency, which was uncovered by a Houston Chronicle investigation.

Governor Greg Abbott ordered the initial draft ready by the end of the week, and the full text of the initial draft of the corrective action plan can be viewed on the TEA website. The proposed portions of the most interest to teachers include a professional development component and possible future changes to certification requirements.

Specifically, the plan explains, “TEA will create and execute on statewide professional development for all educators (general education, special education, and others), structured initially as a training institute for teachers around the state, and to include ongoing follow up. The content of this professional development will include elements both for inclusive practices and instructional techniques as well as broader identification and related Child Find practices. The content development will be informed by the perspectives of educators, special education students, and field experts. All participants will be required to demonstrate content proficiency and implementation before being noted as having participated in the full program.”

The section on certification is included in an appendix listing additional measures, which states, “TEA will explore possible changes to teacher certification and credentialing as it relates to requiring a demonstrated proficiency in areas related to special education.”

The initial proposal lays out four main corrective actions:

Corrective Action One

Documentation that the State’s system of general supervision requires that each ISD identifies, locates, and evaluates all children suspected of having a disability who need special education and related services, in accordance with section 612(a)(3) of the IDEA and its implementing regulation at 34 CFR §300.111, and makes FAPE available to all eligible children with disabilities in accordance with section 612(a)(1) of the IDEA and its implementing regulation at 34 CFR §300.101.

Under this section, TEA will hire additional staff to audit schools both on-site and remotely once every three to six years. The new Review and Support Team will have unrestricted access to staff and students, the ability to make scheduled and unannounced campus visits and the ability to conduct confidential interviews. According to the plan, “The purpose will be to have an authentic understanding of the district’s strengths and areas of growth, to make fast corrections and link districts to strong technical support options.” Additionally, TEA will explore incorporating students with disabilities and special education educators as reviewers.

Corrective Action Two

A plan and timeline by which TEA will ensure that each ISD will (i) identify, locate, and evaluate children enrolled in the ISD who should have been referred for an initial evaluation under the IDEA, and (ii) require IEP Teams to consider, on an individual basis, whether additional services are needed for children previously suspected of having a disability who should have been referred for an initial evaluation and were later found eligible for special education and related services under the IDEA, taking into consideration supports and services previously provided to the child.

Here, TEA discusses plans to hire a third-party contractor to conduct outreach. According to the text, “The cost of identifying and conducting assessments for students suspected of having a disability has always been the responsibility of the district, which will continue.” Districts will also be required to provide compensatory services to students found to have needed services who did not receive them. Districts will also be responsible for this cost, though TEA is proposing a five-year, $25 million fund to help some of them.

Corrective Action Three

A plan and timeline by which TEA will provide guidance to ISD staff in the State, including all general and special education teachers, necessary to ensure that ISDs (i) ensure that supports provided to struggling learners in the general education environment through RTI, Section 504, and the State’s dyslexia program are not used to delay or deny a child’s right to an initial evaluation for special education and related services under the IDEA; (ii) are provided information to share with the parents of children suspected of having a disability that describes the differences between RTI, the State dyslexia program, Section 504, and the IDEA, including how and when school staff and parents of children suspected of having a disability may request interventions and/or services under these programs; and (iii) disseminate such information to staff and the parents of children suspected of having a disability enrolled in the ISD’s schools, consistent with 34 CFR §300.503(c) .

Under this section, TEA will contract a vendor to create resource materials intended to explain the applicable laws to parents. This section includes the professional development component mentioned previously.

Corrective Action Four

A plan and timeline by which TEA will monitor ISDs’ implementation of the IDEA requirements described above when struggling learners suspected of having a disability and needing special education and related services under the IDEA are receiving services and supports through RTI, Section 504, and the State’s dyslexia program.

Here, TEA discusses the creation of a Special Education Escalation Team to offer technical assistance and intensive monitoring. The team will initially focus on districts with the highest self-reported ratio of missed identifications, then serve as an escalation pathway for the Review and Support Team.

The plan also lists the following actions in addition to the plan’s four core components:

  • Given TEA’s prior actions to expand its special education support team by 39 FTEs statewide, TEA will begin staff training across the agency so that all TEA staff provide consistent responses to stakeholders. These trainings will occur quarterly.
  • TEA will explore possible changes to teacher certification and credentialing as it relates to requiring a demonstrated proficiency in areas related to special education.
  • TEA is restructuring grant agreements with Educational Service Centers (ESCs) to be outcomes-oriented. Further, as part of the grant requirements, there will be close document review and approval of all ESC materials to ensure guidance in the field remains clear.
  • TEA is moving forward with the posting and hiring of a Special Education Director.

The agency has been ordered to seek input from stakeholders, including parents and educators, which will be collected through an online survey available on the TEA website January 23. The agency will accept public comment on this draft plan through February 18, 2018, after which a new Proposed Plan will be released on or around March 1. Public comments on this plan will be accepted through March 31. The agency expects to submit a Final State Corrective Action Plan to the U.S. Department of Education on or around April 18, 2018.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 12, 2018

Happy Friday! Here’s a look at this week’s education news higlights:


The Texas education community was rocked this week by federal officials announcing that Texas violated laws by failing to provide adequate evaluation of and services to students with disabilities. The findings concluded a lengthy investigation in which federal officials visited Texas schools, interviewed parents and educators, and reviewed documentation about how students with special needs were identified and treated.

One of the issues at the center of the investigation was evidence that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) had either explicitly or tacitly compelled districts to keep the percentage of their students receiving special education services below a cap of 8.5 percent. ATPE supported legislation, Senate Bill 160 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso), that was passed last year to end the practice.

Gov. Greg Abbott responded to this week’s announcement by directing Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to craft a plan within seven days to reform the system and make recommendations for any needed legislative changes. Abbott also angered many educators by stating in a press release that school districts had been at fault. The governor accused school district administrators of a “dereliction of duty,” prompting rebuttals from the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education and other groups who noted that school district officials had merely been following the instructions and requirements given to them by TEA.

Read more about federal investigation findings in this republished post from The Texas Tribune.

 


ATPE has issued a response to one state senator’s complaints about efforts to improve voter turnout in school communities. As we reported before the holidays, Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) has asked Attorney General Ken Paxton for guidance on whether it is legal for groups like ATPE and the Texas Educators Vote coalition to work with school districts on programs to encourage and make it easier for educators and eligible students to vote. Bettencourt has complained about school boards adopting a coalition-drafted resolution supporting a culture of voting in Texas public schools; school administrators encouraging teachers to vote; and school districts providing transportation to the polls.

Today, ATPE joined other education-related groups who have written to the attorney general in response to Sen. Bettencourt’s misleading claims about our nonpartisan Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts. Read the letter from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday to Attorney General Paxton here.

 


In response to changes sought by the federal government, Texas Education Agency (TEA) officials earlier this week submitted a revised plan for state compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Learn more about the adjustments proposed by state officials, many of which relate to the state’s accountability system and implementation of state law changes made last legislative session, in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


The 2018 Texas primary elections are now less than six weeks away, with early voting scheduled to begin on Feb. 20. Have you checked out our candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote? Our profiles of candidates running for the Texas Legislature, State Board of Education, Governor, and Lieutenant Governor include links to campaign websites, notes on significant endorsements made by other groups, legislative incumbents’ voting records, and responses to our candidate survey. If your area candidates have not yet responded to our survey, ask them to participate! For additional information, contact the ATPE Governmental Relations team at government@atpe.org.

 


A commission created by lawmakers of the 85th Texas Legislature to study the issue of school finance is scheduled to hold its first meeting January 23 in Austin. Tacked onto House Bill (HB) 21 during the August special session, the 13-member commission is tasked with making recommendations for the improvement of the public school finance system, including:

  1. The purpose of the public school finance system and the relationship between state and local funding in that system
  2. The appropriate levels of local maintenance and operations and interest and sinking fund tax effort necessary to implement a public school finance system that complies with the requirements under the Texas Constitution
  3. Policy changes to the public school finance system necessary to adjust for student demographics and the geographic diversity in the state

The commission is composed of members appointed by the governor, speaker of the Texas House, lieutenant governor, and chair of the State Board of Education (SBOE). Board Chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) appointed SBOE Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) to serve on the commission. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) appointed former Texas Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister to chair the commission. The governor also appointed Todd Williams, who serves as education policy advisor to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, former state Rep. Elvira Reyna, and Galena Park ISD teacher and ATPE member Melissa Martin.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Texas) named Senate Education Chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), and Pflugerville ISD superintendent Doug Killian. House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) appointed House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), Vice-Chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), Educator Quality Subcommittee Chair Ken King (R-Canadian), and Austin ISD CFO Nicole Conley Johnson.

The commission must report its recommendations by December 31, 2018.

 


 

From The Texas Tribune: Feds say Texas illegally failed to educate students with disabilities

  • by Aliyya Swaby, The Texas Tribune
  • Jan. 11, 2018

Vanessa Tijerina addresses the panel about her 13-year-old special needs child who has been denied special education for 4 years on December 13, 2016. U.S. Department of Education officials held a meeting in Edinburg on their tour of Texas to hear community members’ experiences with special education, continuing an investigation of whether Texas is capping services for students with disabilities. Photo by Eddie Seal/The Texas Tribune.

A U.S. Department of Education investigation concluded Thursday that Texas violated federal law by failing to ensure students with disabilities were properly evaluated and provided with an adequate public education.

After interviews and monitoring visits with parents, school administrators and state officials, the federal investigation found that the Texas Education Agency effectively capped the statewide percentage of students who could receive special education services and incentivized some school districts to deny services to eligible students.

It also told TEA that it needs to take several corrective actions, including producing documentation that the state is properly monitoring school districts’ evaluations for special education, developing a plan and timeline for TEA to ensure that each school district will evaluate students previously denied needed services and creating a plan and timeline for TEA to provide guidance to educators on how to identify and educate students with disabilities.

“Far too many students in Texas had been precluded from receiving supports and services under [the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act],” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in a statement Thursday. “I’ve worked directly with TEA Commissioner [Mike] Morath on resolving these issues, and I appreciate the Texas Education Agency’s efforts to ensure all children with disabilities are appropriately identified, evaluated and served under IDEA.

“While there is still more work to be done, leaders in the state have assured me they are committed to ensuring all students with disabilities can achieve their full potential.”

In response to the report, Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to Morath demanding that TEA prepare an initial plan to reform special education within the next seven days, with the input of parents, advocates and educators. He also demanded TEA develop legislative recommendations to help ensure districts comply with federal and state special education laws.

Legislators passed a law in May prohibiting Texas from capping special education services. Special education advocates and parents had lobbied for a number of smaller reform bills during the session, few of which passed.

“Federal officials have provided no definitive timeline for action by TEA, but parents and students across our state cannot continue waiting for change,” Abbott wrote. “I am directing you to take immediate steps to prepare an initial corrective action plan draft within the next seven days.”

In a statement Thursday, Morath said he will continue to increase training and support for educators on educating students with disabilities.

“We have added significant resources focused on increasing technical assistance and training for our school systems, including 39 statewide special education support staff in the last year,” he said. “I am committing today that there will be more.”

The federal investigation was prompted by a series of reports from the Houston Chronicle alleging TEA had denied needed special education services to thousands of students with disabilities across the state. Texas provides special education to a small percentage of students compared to other states. That number has gone up from 8.5 percent in 2015-16 to 8.8 percent last school year, according to TEA’s statewide academic performance report.

TEA has denied all allegations that it capped services for students.

The report comes more than a year after federal officials traveled to five Texas cities in December 2016 and heard parents tell numerous stories about educators who had not been properly trained on what services they were legally required to provide students with disabilities. The agency also collected more than 400 public written comments from those who could not attend a meeting in person.

Federal officials returned to Texas last February to tour selected school districts for a firsthand look at local special education data and policies.

The report Thursday confirmed the complaints of many the parents who spoke out at those meetings. It said:

  • TEA was more likely to monitor and intervene in school districts with higher rates of students in special education, creating a statewide system that incentivized denying services to eligible students. School district officials said they expected they would receive less monitoring if they served 8.5 percent of students or fewer.
  • According to internal reports reviewed by federal officials, administrators at multiple districts worked to decrease the percentage of students identified for special education services — even though there was no evidence to indicate those actions were necessary.
  • School administrators provided some students suspected of having disabilities with intensive academic support as a way of delaying or refusing to evaluate them for necessary federally funded special education services. Teachers and staff did not understand how to deploy this support in a way that complied with federal law.
  • Texas has a policy to only provide federally funded services to students with dyslexia if those students also have another disability. That violates federal law, the report said, since it denies some eligible students federally funded special education services. School districts were found to be inconsistent in how they interpreted and carried out this state policy.
  • Many school district staff members said they saw evaluation for federally funded special education services as a “last resort” for students who were struggling to learn. They did not understand that students could receive these services in both special education and general education classrooms.

The agency’s attempts to address some of these problems in the last several months collapsed recently after it awarded a contract to overhaul special education to a company with a short track record without letting other firms bid for the job. After parents of students with disabilities argued the contract was poorly thought out, Morath terminated it — with $2.2 million in federal funding already spent for services rendered. The agency is now conducting an internal review of its contracting processes.

Texas now lacks both a special education director and a long-term plan for overhauling special education, leaving parents and advocates frustrated and concerned.

Reference Material

USDE special education monitoring visit letter

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/01/11/federal-special-education-monitoring-report/.

 

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