The Texas Education Agency is starting the search for organizations to help school districts overhaul special education following a federal finding that the state had effectively denied students with disabilities access to needed services.
Agency officials Monday put out a call for applications for more than $20 million in grants, with applicants limited to Texas universities and the 20 state education centers set up to assist school districts. The TEA had included many of the action items in a strategic plan it submitted to the federal government in April detailing how it would ensure students with special needs were being educated.
After a long investigation, the federal government concluded earlier this year that the state was effectively incentivizing school districts to keep their special education numbers low, causing Texas to provide special education services to a small percentage of students compared to other states.
Each of the year-long grants, across 12 major categories, will be funded through discretionary federal funds provided to states for special education, implemented either in the 2018-19 or 2019-20 academic years. While the TEA has made it clear it cannot do much more without additional state or federal funding, school administrators have argued the state’s plan is an unfunded mandate and would require they make cuts in other crucial areas of their budgets.
Several of the contracts will go to organizations that can help schools educate some of the most vulnerable and neglected students with special needs, including those with cognitive disabilities, those who are deaf or blind, those with autism and those who are in small school districts with limited resources. Another is intended to help school districts train staff to evaluate which students are in need of federally funded special education services. The federal government found that many educators misunderstood the legal requirements around educating students with disabilities.
The TEA tried and failed to address some of these issues last year when it awarded a contract to overhaul special education to a relatively young, private company without letting others bid for the task. When parents of students with disabilities argued the contract was unfairly bid and would not help their students, the agency terminated it, losing $2.2 million in federal funding.