85th Legislature: Sen. Rodríguez passes special education bills
Austin – The 85th Texas Legislature’s Regular Session has ended. State Sen. José Rodríguez passed 50 bills, including those addressing issue areas such as education, health care, the civil and criminal justice system, local governance issues, and more. Sen. Rodríguez will send information regarding some of those over the course of this week. Today’s bulletin regards special education bills.
“These bills help ensure that children receive the services to which they are legally entitled, that parents are heard more carefully, and that military families have every opportunity to advocate for their children,” Sen. Rodríguez said.
Special education cap, parental involvement, and extending due process deadline for military families
Sen. Rodríguez worked with numerous stakeholders on these bills, including disability advocates like Disability Rights Texas, the Arc of Texas, and the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities; and the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE). Additionally, he was in close contact with the Texas Education Agency throughout the process.
Specific information about the bills:
- SB 160 eliminates the Texas Education Agency’s 8.5 percent “cap” on special education enrollment.
o 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’ special education enrollment was comparable to the national average at about 12 percent. But by 2015, Texas reached TEA’s 8.5 percent target, the lowest in the nation.
o The cap continues to subject Texas to 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.
o Senate Bill 160 ensures TEA will never again adopt a similar target byprohibiting the agency 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.
- SB 436 improves the Texas Special Education Continuous Advisory Committee (SECAC) by promoting more public participation.
o SECAC is the federally mandated public body that provides guidance to TEA regarding special education services and rules.
o 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 also submit a report with recommended changes to state law and agency rules.
- HB 3632, authored in the House by Rep. Joseph Moody and sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Rodríguez, ensures that military service members’ active duty time will not count towards the one-year deadline to request a special education due process hearing. These hearings are a rare last resort for parents who need their child’s Individual Education Plan to better reflect the child’s specific needs.
o Military parents may struggle with this one-year time limit; for example, if they have a deployment or relocation. The federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act provides that a state agency will not count time spent in active duty toward its deadlines. However, disability advocates find that in practice, parents have not been able to assert this right because it’s not also written in Texas law or rule.
o HB 3632 requires an alert on military families’ rights under the Act when requesting a due process hearing be included in TEA’s Notice of Procedural Safeguards, a document that goes to every parent of a student with disabilities in Texas public schools.
José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. Senator Rodríguez currently serves as the Chairman of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus.