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250,000 Kids. $277 Million in Fines. It’s Been 3 Years Since Feds Ordered a Special Ed Reboot in Texas — Why Are Students Still Being Denied?

The Texas Education Agency in 2004 imposed an arbitrary, illegal cap on the number of students that schools could deem eligible for special education.

Since then, advocates estimate, some 250,000 children a year have ended up  unable to get schools or districts to acknowledge their needs, much less provide appropriate instruction. Few advocates and even fewer parents understood that an official policy, presumably imposed to cut costs, was driving those refusals.

The U.S. Education Department has ordered the state to expand access to special ed — quickly and dramatically — an effort that could cost $3 billion. On paper, the cap has been abolished, the number of children being evaluated for eligibility is rising and legislators have appropriated $277 million to pay fines imposed by the department because of a separate finding that the state illegally slashed special education funding.

But the state’s elected officials who have the power to order a wholesale overhaul of the system have balked at removing hurdles that stymie parents. Law firms representing school districts in disputes like the Mauldins’ have lobbied against stronger protections for families — and their campaign contributions to lawmakers who have tabled talk of comprehensive reforms in the statehouse give them leverage unimagined by parents who have help from only a handful of advocates.