Texas Education Agency releases draft strategic plan to improve state’s special education system

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The Texas Education Agency released a comprehensive draft strategic plan Monday evening in response to a Jan. 11 report in which the U.S. Department of Education found the TEA failed to ensure all special education students in the state were given access to appropriate services.

According to the federal report, the TEA failed to identify, locate and evaluate children with disabilities and to monitor school districts to ensure they met requirements laid out in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The heart of the violation can be tied to an 8.5 percent indicator set in 2004 as a general target for the number of students in a school district that should have received special education services. Although TEA officials said the number was not an enforced requirement, the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs found it caused some school districts to take actions intended to decrease the percentage to 8.5 percent or lower. The indicator was eliminated in 2016.

“The purpose of special education is to provide sufficient support to our students with disabilities on an individualized basis so that they can obtain the same level of academic success typical of their peers,” TEA officials stated in the draft strategic plan’s executive summary. “Working together, we will significantly improve outcomes for our special education students.”

According to the TEA, about 8.8 percent of all Texas students—a number that has continued to decrease over the last 15 years—receive special education services, compared to the national average of 13 percent. While 75 percent of all Texas students are approaching grade level in reading and math, only 41 percent of the state’s special education students are attaining the same standards.

The TEA made outreach efforts to draft the strategic plan, including direct interaction with special education students, families, educators, advocacy groups and school district officials, according to the TEA.

Prior to releasing this plan, the TEA drafted an initial corrective action response under the orders of Gov. Greg Abbott on Jan. 18, which addressed the issues identified in the federal monitoring report. Initial plans included providing resources to parents, implementing a statewide special education professional development system and strengthening resources allocated to special education to increase on-site support.

The TEA cannot use funds out of those appropriated by the state and federal governments, so the strategic plan was designed based on existing budgets. Action steps laid out in the plan include:

  • Increasing evaluation capacity to ensure the availability of bilingual evaluators, educational diagnosticians and school psychologists
  • Executing a statewide professional development system for all educators
  • Strengthening the existing call center, providing access to state-funded experts and support resources
  • Improving dyslexia-specific support services
  • Creating documents to help stakeholders understand the school finance system regarding special education
  • Continuing a collaboration with the Texas Workforce Commission to determine partnerships related to workforce preparation and readiness

To read the full draft strategic plan, visit www.tea.texas.gov/texassped. The updated draft is available for review and public comment through April 18. Comments regarding the strategic plan can be submitted by email at texassped@tea.texas.gov. The final corrective action plan is scheduled to be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in April.

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Danica Smithwick
Danica joined Community Impact Newspaper in May 2016 after graduating with a journalism degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. She covers public education, local government, business, demographic trends, real estate development, nonprofits and more in the Cy-Fair community.
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