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New School Year, New Laws: Special Education

In this week’s blog post in the “New School Year, New Laws” series, the ATPE lobby team looks at changes to special education resulting from the 86th legislative session earlier this year.

Three years ago, the Houston Chronicle published an investigative series on how Texas was systematically denying special education services to students through an arbitrary 8.5% cap on special education enrollment. After confirming the findings, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) ordered the state to complete a Special Education Strategic Plan and Corrective Action Response. In the interim before the 2019 legislative session, special education advocates worked diligently with lawmakers, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on the strategic plan, corrective action response, and special education funding to try to mitigate the negative effects of having denied years of services to students. This involvement from stakeholders helped to prioritize special education in the legislative session.

Below are some of the bills passed this year to address special education funding and various initiatives for students with special needs.

House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood): Special education funding and advisory committee

Special education in Texas is currently funded through a system of weights based on student placement. For example, the weight for a homebound student is 5.0 (meaning that a school district receives 5 times the amount of the basic allotment for that student). The mainstream weight covers approximately 85% of students receiving special education services, according to the TEA. Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) amended HB 3 to increase the mainstream weight from 1.1 to 1.15, which will generate hundreds of extra dollars for every student receiving special education services in the general education classroom. As an aside, stakeholders and agency officials alike are urging that the rhetoric around special education shift to characterize special education as a service rather than a placement.

HB 3 also creates a new dyslexia weight of 0.1, which will help direct even more money to students with special needs. The dyslexia weight will also capture and fund students who are receiving services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which is not federally funded like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Lastly, HB 3 establishes a 14-member special education allotment advisory committee that will make recommendations on special education funding. In September, the commissioner of education will appoint committee members, to include a variety of stakeholders both within and outside of the school setting, including two teachers.

These provisions of HB 3 became effective immediately upon the passage of the bill.

Senate Bill (SB) 500 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound): Addressing maintenance of financial support in the supplemental budget

Just before the 2019 legislative session began, news broke that Texas had failed to maintain “state financial support” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Essentially, the state spent $33.3 million less on special education in 2012 than it spent in the prior year, which is not allowed. Unfortunately, the state continued this trend in 2017, 2018, and 2019, and it is now estimated that the resulting federal penalty will reach $233 million.

This year’s supplemental spending bill, SB 500, included over $219 million to settle maintenance of financial support costs and to prevent future penalties.

SB 139 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso): Notification of enrollment opportunities

SB 139 specifically addresses the aforementioned 8.5% cap on enrollment in special education by requiring TEA to develop a notice regarding the elimination of the arbitrary limit. The notice must also include the rights of children under state and federal law and how parents and guardians can initiate referral and evaluation for special education services.

HB 111 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint): Trafficking, abuse, and maltreatment training

As part of their district improvement plan, school districts are required to adopt and implement a policy on sexual abuse, sex trafficking, and other maltreatment of children. Districts must incorporate methods to increase awareness of these issues by providing training for new and existing employees on prevention techniques and the recognition of sexual abuse, sex trafficking, and other maltreatment of students. HB 111 specifically adds that the training should also include prevention and recognition for students with significant cognitive disabilities. HB 111 became effective immediately.

HB 165 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio): High school endorsements

Effective immediately, HB 165 allows students receiving special education services to earn high school endorsements on their transcripts if they complete, with or without modification, the foundation high school curriculum requirements and the additional endorsement curriculum requirements. Under previous law, a student receiving special education services was unable to earn an endorsement by virtue of being enrolled in a modified curriculum. This prevented the student from earning a Distinguished Level of Achievement upon graduation, which is an eligibility requirement for automatic admission to a public institution of higher education in Texas.

SB 522 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo): Services for students with visual impairments

SB 522 aims to improve the educational services provided to students with a visual impairment by aligning the terminology in state law with federal law regarding these students. Additionally, the individualized education plan (IEP) for students with a visual impairment must now include instruction in braille and the use of braille unless the student’s admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committee determines that a different form of instruction is more appropriate. Under SB 522, instruction in braille must be provided by a teacher certified to teach students with visual impairments. This law became effective immediately.

SB 712 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) and HB 3630 by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Highland Park): Prohibiting aversive disciplinary techniques

SB 712 and HB 3630 by are identical bills that prohibit the use of certain techniques on students that are meant to discourage recurring behaviors. These aversive techniques are defined in physical terms, such as inflicting pain on a student, as well as in social, emotional, and mental terms, such as verbally demeaning a student or using a timeout when such breaks are not a part of the student’s individualized education plan (IEP). This legislation does not affect a teacher’s ability to remove students under Texas Education Code Section 37.002, which allows teachers to remove students who are repetitively disruptive and limiting the learning of others. Both bills were effective immediately upon their passage earlier this year.


See the TEA’s “HB 3 in 30” video on special education for additional detail on legislative changes. For more information on the issues featured in our “New School Year, New Laws” series, be sure to check out “An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature,” in which ATPE’s attorneys provide a comprehensive look at new education laws passed in 2019. Join us next Monday here on Teach the Vote to read about legislative changes regarding professional opportunities for educators.

SBEC considers EdTPA pilot, special education certification, and more

SBEC meeting, April 26, 2019

On Friday, April 26, 2019, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met in Austin to take up an agenda including several important items. Items considered by the board included final approval of the EdTPA pilot, discussion of a new framework for special education certification exams, and approval of final details for the new “Principal as Instructional Leader” certificate.

Some action items on the board’s agenda last week will result in a public comment period that will run from May 31, 2019, through July 1, 2019. These include proposals to prompt a routine four-year review of rules regarding the certification of appraisers and rules establishing the certificate categories within the certificate class for classroom teachers (e.g. Science 4-8, Social Studies 7-12, Music EC-12). The board is also proposing changes to rules regarding how districts are required to make personnel assignment decisions. For instance, if you have a certificate in Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies 9-12, you are allowed to teach a variety of social studies and history courses. Due to public testimony, three changes were made to the proposed rules following the February meeting: allowing with agriculture certificates to teach Principles of Architecture: Principals of Construction, Grades 9-12;  allowing those with Physics/Math certificates to teach Robotics 1, Grades 9-12; and allowing those with technology education certificates to teach Transportation, Distribution, and Logistics, Grades 9-12.

Another major rule-making item on the SBEC agenda that will require a public comment period was the approval of proposed changes to rules on Teacher Certification Redesign, including certification requirements, testing requirements, and types of certificate classes and permits issued (probationary, intern, etc.). The proposed changes include the following:

  • A maximum 45-day waiting period between test attempts, which supports test reliability.
  • The option of a four-week, intensive pre-service pathway towards an intern certificate, which is meant to incentivize alternative certification and post-baccalaureate programs to have pre-service teaching.
  • The use of EdTPA, a portfolio-based performance assessment, as a testing option that educator preparation programs (EPPs) can opt into using during a two-year implementation pilot.
  • Updates to fees, including a shift to subject-matter-only assessments for EPPs that require pre-admission content tests (PACT), which would cost $106 (proposed effective January 1, 2020). EdTPA would cost $281 and only affect candidates who choose to use EdTPA and participate in an EPP that is in the pilot, with a cost of $111/task for retakes (three tasks total).

Testimony on the EdTPA proposal was voluminous during Friday’s meeting. An overwhelming majority of EPPs (university, alternative, and post-baccalaureate) testified in opposition to the proposed new assessment, citing concerns with test integrity, cost to candidates, and pilot design. Those in favor of the change, including Teach Plus Texas and four Teach Plus Texas policy fellows, stated that authentic assessment will be effective at inciting change in EPPs that will lead to better prepared teachers. While the board voted in favor of beginning the pilot, certain board members such as Dr. Art Cavazos, Dr. Rex Peebles, Dr. John Kelly, Carlos Villagrana, and Tommy Coleman expressed concerns with the structure and viability of data obtained from the pilot. Dr. Cavazos strongly advocated for a simultaneous alternative to EdTPA to be developed, so that additional data and options are available after the two-year pilot concludes, should the EdTPA data turn out to be inconclusive or negative. Again,a  public comment period on these proposed changes to the certification exam rules will run from May 31, 2019, through July 1, 2019, and will be published in the Texas Register.

Here are additional agenda items on which SBEC took action last Friday:

  • Final approval of the review of rules regarding educator disciplinary proceedings, sanctions, and contested cases. This is a standard four-year review that all state agency rules are subject to on an ongoing, cyclical basis.
  • Final approval of a new rule specifying certification standards for the English as a Second Language (ESL) Supplemental Certificate (proposed effective July 21, 2019). One of the changes to the standards is a section on culturally responsive teaching in order to construct mutually adaptive learning environments for English language learners.
  • Final approval of the deadline for candidates to qualify and apply for the current Principal Certificate (August 31, 2019) so that all certificates under this category can be issued by October 30, 2019. SBEC also heard an update on the 59 EPPs that have been approved to offer the new Principal as Instructional Leader Certificate. See more about Principal Certification Redesign here.
  • Approval of the membership of the Bilingual Education certificate advisory committee, which will work with TEA staff to draft educator standards that define the content of EPPs and certification exams. The committee will convene in June 2019.
  • Approval of the rest of the EPP accountability ratings (56), as most others (77) had been approved during the February SBEC meeting.
  • Approval/action on disciplinary cases involving educator misconduct.

The following additional items were on the board’s agenda last week for discussion only:

  • Discussion of changes to rules regarding accountability standards and procedures for EPPs, including new commendations for high-performing EPPs, adoption of the accountability manual, and how accreditation statuses are determined.
  • Discussion of proposed changes to admission requirements into EPPs to reflect changes to the PACT, which is a part of the Teacher Certification Redesign mentioned above. The purpose of the PACT is to allow candidates admittance to EPP programs by demonstrating subject-matter-only knowledge (if they don’t have the commensurate coursework and minimum 2.5 GPA). Currently, candidates can gain admission through a content pedagogy test, which tests for teaching strategies that the candidate hasn’t been exposed to yet. The proposed revisions would also implement SB 1839, HB 2039, HB 3349 of the 85th Legislature, which created an Early Childhood through Grade 3 (EC-3) certificate and a Trade and Industrial Workforce Training: Grades 6-12 certificate.
  • Discussion of recommendations made by the Special Education policy forums and an update on the upcoming certification test development process. This includes four new special education certifications and a Deaf/Blind supplemental certification. The four new certification tests would be a “Mild/Moderate Support, Grades EC-8”, “Mild/Moderate Support, Grades 6-12”, “High Support, Grades EC-8”, and “High Support, Grades 6-12”.
  • Discussion of the 5-year EPP continuing approval review process and the current results for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 reviews. This item will come up again at the October 2019 meeting as an action item.

SBEC will hold a work session on July 25, 2019 and will hold its next formal meeting on July 26, 2019. There will be an opportunity for public testimony at the July 26 meeting for items that will result in a public comment period (see above) and for the discussion items above. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.