News Roundup: Lawmakers Say Increase Special Education Funding Or Lose It To Fines

Our daily look at headlines from around the state.

By Becky FogelApril 11, 2019 12:05 pm

Texas lawmakers are calling for more special education funding in the state budget to stave off financial penalties from the federal government.

State Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, outlined concerns at a capitol press conference this morning.

“This is not just a special education issue, it is an education issue that affects all of our students,” Rep. Morgan said. “Data consistently shows that districts spend far more to educate students with disabilities than what they are allotted by both federal and state governments.”

The bipartisan group of lawmakers, which includes State Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, say they were prompted to act after a recent report in the Texas Tribune found the state could owe the federal government over $220 million for illegally decreasing funding for students with disabilities. The state has faced increased scrutiny over how it provides special education after a federal investigation found Texas effectively capped the percentage of students who could receive these services.

Anna Smith is a mother of four. Two of her children receive special education services, and Smith says despite lawmakers’ past promises to fix funding issues, she isn’t seeing changes.

“We live in constant fear of my son’s services being denied or cut because Texas refuses to fund special education,” she says.

As the Texas Tribune reports, the state would need to $111.6 million on special education this fiscal year to avoid a federal penalty for 2019.

Harris County has indicted another top Arkema executive in conjunction with a fire and chemical release at the company’s Crosby plant during Harvey, Houston Public Media’s Andrew Schneider reports. The grand jury charged both Arkema and the officer with reckless assault.

District Attorney Kim Ogg alleged that Mike Keough, Arkema’s vice president of logistics, deliberately endangered first responders by providing false information about the extent of the danger at the plant.

“In truth, what happened is the deputies unsuspectingly drove right into the middle of toxic fumes, and when mixed with the air, those toxic fumes became a cloud that exposed not just those first responders but the residents of Crosby,” Ogg said.

Defense counsel Rusty Hardin said that Keough was in Pennsylvania throughout the incident, providing all available information. He said the idea that the DA could charge Keough with a felony under the circumstances left him dumbfounded.

“They somehow have figured out a way to charge somebody with a felony for having committed the impossibility [sic],” Hardin said. “And the impossibility is assaulting someone in another state, someone you’ve never met, heard from, know existed, didn’t know was a public servant, didn’t know any of that, but somehow you’ve assaulted them because they claim that you did not tell them everything that they needed to know.”

Keough is the third company official indicted in connection with the industrial disaster, in which volatile chemicals ignited when the Crosby plant flooded. Arkema CEO Richard Rowe and plant manager Leslie Comardelle are set to go to trial next month for reckless emission of an air contaminant.

And while visiting Crosby, Texas yesterday, President Trump signed two executive orders aimed at making oil and gas projects easier to build.

He told supporters the measures will make it harder for states to invoke the Clean Water Act to block pipeline construction, adding “it will stop state level abuse of water quality certifications. They abuse you when you’re nowhere near water – they abuse you.”

Environmental groups criticized the orders, describing them as an effort to put industry interests over the environment and public health.