Court upholds $33 million federal government penalty for Texas’ underfunding of special education

Court upholds $33 million federal government penalty for Texas’ underfunding of special education
The 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals supported the U.S. Department of Education’s claim that Texas broke the law in 2012 by cutting $33 million from its special education budget. As a result, the government is withholding $33 million in funding as a penalty. (MICHAEL MATHES/AFP/Getty Images)

The 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals on Wednesday ruled in favor of the federal government’s decision to withhold $33 million from Texas for future special education funding, KTVT-TV reported.

A panel of three judges supported the U.S. Department of Education’s claim that Texas broke the law in 2012 by cutting $33 million from its special education budget. As a result, the government is withholding $33 million in funding as a penalty, the TV station reported.

Under federal law, states must maintain the same level of spending on special education every year to remain eligible for federal grants.

What is the background?

In 2016, parents in North Texas told the TV station that their children were being denied special education services — a federal mandate. The report also found the problem was likely happening statewide.

The issue was traced back to 2004, when special education enrollment in Texas schools began dropping. Total enrollment in special ed went from 11.2 percent that year to 8.5 percent of students in 2015. The trend was found in five of the largest districts in North Texas: Plano, Garland, Arlington, Dallas, and Fort Worth.

In 2004, faced with a $1 billion shortfall, the Texas Education Agency reportedly put a new policy into place that was never publicly announced. The agency allegedly told districts that if special ed enrollment exceeded 8.5 percent, it would deduct points from the district’s annual performance report.

By 2012, the percentage of students enrolled in special education fell to 8.6 percent, the lowest in the country, according to the report. And in October 2016, the TV station found that “tens of thousands” of students were being denied special education services.

The TEA last year eliminated its cap on special education enrollment.

But in January, after a 15-month federal review, the U.S. Department of Education found that Texas violated the federal special education law. They also demanded that Texas make drastic changes.

What happens next?

The elimination of the cap, coupled with demands from the government, means Texas expects to spend an “additional $3 billion” on special education over the next three years, the report states.