Last October, Texas education officials told lawmakers they would likely owe the federal government $33 million, after being accused of illegally limiting funding for public school students with disabilities. Those officials said this $33 million comprised three percent of the state’s special education grant, and wouldn’t hurt special needs students.
Aliyya Swaby, an education reporter for the Texas Tribune, says that the $33 million estimate has grown to $223 million, which is almost a quarter of what Texas gets annually from the federal government for special education.
“Texas going back and looking at, ‘Okay, if we’ve been miscalculating the way we spend money for kids with disabilities all these years, what does that mean for past years?’ So, they’ve come up with $200 million additional money that they will probably owe the federal government in a financial penalty,” Swaby says.
The state’s education agency is currently working with federal officials to make this number smaller.
“It’s possible the feds could flag this for Texas; they could take the money out in smaller chunks over time, but either way you have parents and you have advocates really concerned that we already have been found in violation of federal special education law for not serving enough students,” Swaby says.
The biggest concern for parents and advocates is that Texas actually might not have as much money in the future to serve kids who need it. Parents and advocates haven’t given up on lobbying this session, however. It’s estimated that the state will be $111 million short this fiscal year.
“There’s seven weeks left in the legislative session, it’s still possible lawmakers could edit the budget, put that money in, and just get it quickly out to schools… There’s some lawmakers in the House who are really trying hard to do that, and for advocates that’s where their attention is focused right now,” Swaby says.
Advocates for children with disabilities are in a tough spot.
“They don’t want Texas to be decreasing funding from year to year for kids with disabilities but also they don’t want that money to be taken away. The way to fix this for them is really to just fix the way Texas spends money on kids with disabilities — and then it won’t be flagged year after year,” Swaby says.
Written by Brooke Reaves.