AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM) – The Texas Education Agency has eliminated what advocates say amounted to a cap placed on special education enrollment.
In a letter from the Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to disability rights attorneys, the state’s top education official wrote that the TEA intends to eliminate the special education enrollment indicator of 8.5 percent in school district’s performance manuals “so there is no further confusion or misunderstanding.”
On Monday at a news conference at the State Capitol, Judi Martinez, 18, said she hopes the elimination of the cap will prevent other students from going through what she has endured.
Despite being diagnosed with multiple learning disabilities, Martinez said her Austin high school would not provide her the special education services she needed.
“It was frustrating because I didn’t think the people in charge of education would discriminate against any student like that,” she said. “They ignored me, and I was never given the help that I have a right to.”
Martinez, who had hoped to attend college one day, dropped out of high school.
If I had been granted the accommodations and support I needed, I would have had an opportunity to graduate,” said Martinez.
The advocacy group, Disability Rights Texas, said there are thousands of stories similar to Martinez’s from across the state.
The group estimates last year Texas schools failed to identify more than 200,000 students who needed special education services.
Since the 8.5 percent indicator was first included in the school district performance state manual in 2004, special education enrollment across the state has dropped from 11.2 percent of the student population in 2004 to 8.5 percent a decade later.
Rachel Gandy with Disability Rights Texas said, “The indicator works by punishing school personnel with audits and correction action plans when they enroll more than 8.5 percent of the student body in special education services.”
Lawmakers also filed several bills on Monday addressing special education concerns in the state.
The bills are aimed at ensuring the state never puts a limit on special education enrollment as well as calls on school districts to go back and reevaluate students who may have been wrongfully denied special education services because of the cap.
Another bill introduced Monday would improve the process of how students are evaluated for special education in part by increasing parental rights.