Texas Public School Finance: The Special Education Struggle

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Texas Public School Finance: The Special Education Struggle

April 2019

Lynn Murphy

By Lynn Murphy (@_lynnsanity)
Center for Health and Social Policy Ambassador


The state of special education in Texas is grave. Following federal investigation, Texas was found to be in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in January 2018. For the past 15 years, Texas policy has effectively capped special education enrollment at 8.5%, violating requirements for the state to provide a free and appropriate education to every student (FAPE) and to identify every child with a disability in the state (Child Find).

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) then published a corrective action plan in response to these federal violations, promising to repair the damage. In late March 2019, however, in its draft application for federal IDEA grants, TEA indicated that it cannot meet its federal requirements to ensure FAPE and Child Find for students with disabilities until June 30, 2020. Given these violations, an estimated $3.3 billion is required to get the state’s special education system back on track. This estimate does not include the recent court ruling against Texas for reducing its special education funding since 2012, making Texas liable for an additional $223 million shortfall.

Meanwhile, special education continues to take a back seat in the Texas Legislature, despite public education finance as the highlight of the 2019 legislative session. In the Texas Commission on Public School Finance’s final report, the group decided to “wait to implement special education formula changes until the Corrective Action Plan, having been approved by the Department of Education, can be fully implemented.”

HB 3 reflects a $9 billion contribution to public schools (including funding and tax reform) and includes some adjustments to the basic allotment per student receiving special education services as well as an increased funding weight for special education students in the mainstream setting from 1.1 to 1.15. But it is clear that the state of Texas must further improve its funding system for students with disabilities. “We expect the legislature to step up and fully fund the needs of our special education students,” stated Representative Donna Howard.

Despite setbacks, disability rights advocates continue to battle for ground at the Capitol. HB 3581 (Meyer) takes a step toward equity for students with disabilities, through restructuring the funding formula to better meet needs. “This is not a special education issue. It is an education issue that affects all of our students,” said Representative Morgan Meyer. “We must prioritize special education funding.”

The bottom line is that TEA and Texas lawmakers must commit to aggressively funding and repairing the state’s special education system. After all, it is their responsibility to educate every Texas public school student.

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Lynn Murphy is a second-year Master of Public Affairs student and CHASP Ambassador at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. She graduated from the University of Missouri with degrees in Political Science and Sociology before moving to Austin. A former special education teacher for Austin Independent School District, Lynn also worked in the nonprofit sector before joining her class at the LBJ School. She continues to be passionate about policy issues including disability rights, especially through the lenses of education and human rights. After LBJ, Lynn plans on pursuing advocacy in the policy realm for vulnerable populations, including students with disabilities.

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The views, information, or opinions expressed by blog contributors are solely those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Center for Health and Social Policy, the LBJ School of Public Affairs, or The University of Texas at Austin or affiliated employees.