Rodríguez’s bill to end arbitrary special education ‘target’ passes full Senate

Austin – The Texas Senate has passed Sen. José Rodríguez’s bill eliminating the Texas Education Agency’s cap on special education enrollment.

 

“I appreciate my colleague’s support in ensuring that the state never again sets an arbitrary cap, however it’s described, on the services to which children are legally entitled,” Sen. Rodríguez said.  “Parents have a right to have their child evaluated for special education services, and to have a place at the table when schools design appropriate accommodations. Children deserve our best efforts to provide a quality education.”

 

Disability Rights Texas supported the bill, and provided the following statement of support: “Passing SB 160 shows that the Texas Senate understands what parents and advocates have always known – when children with disabilities have access to the services they need, they can succeed like all other student,” said Rachel Gandy, policy fellow with Disability Rights Texas.

 

“Since 2004, TEA’s 8.5 percent cap on special education stood as an unnecessary roadblock to services for thousands of students. SB 160 fixes that problem. Senator Rodriguez’s efforts will expand access to special education today and ensure that TEA can never implement a similar policy in the future. Because of this bill, countless children with disabilities in our state will have a fairer chance at completing their education, finding gainful employment, and living independently.”

 

BACKGROUND

 

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 was comparable to the national special education enrollment average at about 12 percent. But by 2015, Texas reached TEA’s 8.5 percent target, the lowest special education enrollment in the nation.

 

Now, the cap subjects Texas to ongoing 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.

 

Senate Bill 160 — the very first bill Sen. Rodríguez filed this legislative session — prohibits TEA 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.

 

A companion bill, House Bill 713, has been filed by Rep. Gene Wu.

 

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José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural constituencies, and more than 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Senator Rodríguez currently serves as the Chairman of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus, and is a member of the Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Economic Development; Transportation; Veteran Affairs and Border Security; and Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs (Vice Chair).  

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