Special Education Efforts Serve More Students

by Karlyn Keller

A new school year signals increased interest and excitement about what the year ahead has in store for those we serve, especially students in special populations.

Texas is beginning year five under the Special Education Corrective Action Plan that the Texas Education Agency created under the guidance of the federal Office of Special Education Programs. A lot of progress has been reported on meeting our various goals, but school districts and state officials continue to address lingering areas of concern.

Increase in students served

During the last five years, we have seen the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Legislature take the lead on seven major initiatives:

  1. The removal of the 8.5% indicator for identification in special education
  2. The launch of additional service supports and resources for districts across the state
  3. An increase in mainstream funding for serving students in special education
  4. Funding to support students identified with dyslexia
  5. Creation of a committee targeting an overhaul of the funding mechanism associated with special populations
  6. Revision and publication of the state’s Dyslexia Handbook
  7. Provision of added funds directly to families to support students with special needs

Along with these major changes, we have seen an increase in special education identification from its lowest point of 8.8% in 2011-12 to 11.7% in 2021-22. This is an increase of 44.5% in the number of students served in special education since 2012, from 439,677 to 635,340 students.

Nearly one-third of students identified in special education are identified with a specific learning disability — 32.8%, or 204,483 students. In addition, the number of students identified with dyslexia continues to increase.

In the last six years, the number of students served has more than doubled, from 108,951 in 2014 to 270,977 in 2022. The increase means more students are receiving the services and support they need to make progress in their educational goals.

On the whole, we are doing better in identifying and supporting students with disabilities.

Addressing funding

Together, with the increase in students served, we have seen a subsequent increase in state dollars allocated to special education. In fact, we have seen a $1 billion increase between 2015-16 and 2020-21, from $3.02 billion to $4.05 billion.

This increase represents both an increase in the number of students identified as well as slight increases in weights per student. Federal funding has remained static at about $1 billion. Funds flowing from the state and local tax dollars have resulted in the additional allotted money. While these dollars assist in helping provide services to students with special needs, it is clear that our current funding mechanisms are antiquated and need to be addressed.

Various commissions and committees have met to study and make recommendations to the Legislature, which convenes in January 2023. In addition, we see a focus on increasing funding at the federal level to support the growing federal requirements.

Moving forward

It is clearer than ever that our students need highly qualified and trained staff to work with them to increase student performance. Students in special education continue to perform well below their peers. In fact, we see overall performance between 2017 to 2022 continue to fall for students in special education — 41% passing all subjects in 2017 compared to 38% passing all subjects in 2022. More attention is needed to better support and help students strive for their best.

As we move into year three of cyclical reviews, approximately half (597 local education agencies) of the school districts (independent school districts and charters) have received reviews by TEA. The state expects to complete 100% of school districts by 2024-25 (619 remaining LEAs).

Of the districts reviewed so far, 224 required more intense targeted monitoring:

  • 86 in 2020
  • 76 in 2021
  • 64 in 2022

It is encouraging to see that number decrease, signaling successful support through the various programs from TEA, regional educational service centers, and school districts across our state. Staff members have overcome a multitude of hurdles over the last few years. The work is Herculean, but Texas educators are up to the task. With well-trained and qualified staff, public schools can continue to meet and exceed the expectations of the law and the families that we serve.

We at TASB can help you on this journey. Districts choosing to join TASB Student Solutions have access to well-constructed operating procedures, resources, and ongoing training for their staff. Additionally, districts can contract with us to assist with program and folder reviews to help better identify their strengths and needs. They also can request assistance with staffing determinations through a Special Education Workload Analysis.

We are honored to be part of your journey. Like you, we look forward to a challenging but successful year.

Karlyn Keller is division director of TASB’s Special Education and Student Solutions.

This article was first published in the September/October 2022 issue of Texas Lone Star.

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