Texas education officials violated federal law when they excluded more than 100,000 students with disabilities from programs designed to help them, the federal government announced.
The Department of Education sent a letter to the Texas Education Agency Thursday to announce it’s findings after a 15-month-long investigation. The federal government found that state officials were setting a “target” for how many students could receive special education services, The New York Times reported. Federal law insists that school serve all students with disabilities.
The state’s target created a drop of more than 100,000 students who were previously getting the tools the needed, including therapy and counseling. As the Times explains:
The target, enacted in 2004 and eliminated last year, was set at 8.5 percent of enrollment, and school districts were penalized for exceeding that benchmark, even though the state and national averages had both long been about 12 percent. As a direct result of the policy, regulators determined, the share of students receiving special education services in Texas dropped from 11.6 percent in 2004 to 8.6 percent in 2016 — a difference of about 150,000 children.
The federal investigation was prompted by a massive report from the Houston Chronicle in 2016.
“The law requires that schools base their special ed decisions on need, not opinion, or space availability, or money, or teacher training or other subjective positions,” Kerry Steiner, who worked with a Texas school district as part of a parent training project, told the publication at the time. “It was heartbreaking to see schools not do that.”
Federal investigators held public forums, went to school districts across the state, and interviewed teachers before coming to their conclusion. The DOE has now ordered Texas to create a plan to find and help students who were illegally kept out from special education programs.
“Every child with a disability must have appropriate access to special education and related services that meet his or her unique needs,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement. “Far too many students in Texas had been precluded from receiving supports and services.”
Texas lawmakers had previously ended the policy following the Houston Chronicle’s report.