Texas in Violation of Federal Education Law for Second Time, Likely a Third

Posted on

November 8, 2018

Edie Surtees, Communications Director
Disability Rights Texas

AUSTIN—The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit declared yesterday that students with disabilities in Texas did not receive an adequate level of state spending for their special education services. The Court issued its ruling in a lawsuit by the state of Texas against the U.S. Department of Education.  The Texas Education Agency (TEA) lost its legal fight to overturn the determination by federal officials that there was an illegal cut in state aid to Texas public schools to meet the needs of students with physical and mental disabilities.

Steven Aleman, Attorney and Policy Specialist with Disability Rights Texas, expressed concern that the state has not been investing in the education of students with disabilities as it should.  “Once again we are in the situation of another violation of the mandates of federal special education law – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA),” Aleman said.  “The three-judge panel singled out Texas’s antiquated special education grant system as the root of the inadequate financing problem.” Aleman went on to say that this ruling is the first to analyze the state’s special education funding mechanism which was found by the Court to be lacking.

The U.S. Department of Education decision that the TEA had short changed students with disabilities in state aid in the 2011-2012 school year is not an isolated violation of federal law.  In a review of the state’s most recent application for a federal special education grant, Disability Rights Texas has uncovered that TEA budget officials acknowledge that under the U.S. Department of Education standard for state special education outlays, Texas did not spend at the appropriate rate on students with disabilities in the 2016-2017 school year.

According to TEA’s calculation using the federal standard, there was a short fall in state expenditures for students with disabilities in the amount of $41.6 million in the 2016-2017 school year.  That compounds the problem from the 2011-2012 school year, when the U.S. Department of Education said TEA underfunded special education by $33.3 million.

“All states must ensure a minimum level of state aid for special education services, and Texas is faced with multiple school years in which it fell short,” Aleman said.  “Texas has to get its priorities straight, fix the broken grant allocation system, and put more resources into special education services.”

The case decided on November 7, 2018, isTexas Education Agency v. U.S. Department of Education, No. 18-60500.  In dispute is the compliance standard used by the U.S. Department of Education for the maintenance of state financial support requirement under the IDEA.

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Disability Rights Texas (previously named Advocacy, Inc.) is the federally designated legal protection and advocacy agency (P&A) for people with disabilities in Texas. Our mission is to help people with disabilities understand and exercise their rights under the law, ensuring their full and equal participation in society.