Texas Ended Its Special Education Cap In 2017, But The Policy Has Had Long-Lasting Effects 

Students with more mild impairments who couldn’t get access to special education were much less likely to graduate from high school or go to college.

By Alexandra HartNovember 5, 2019 2:34 pm

In 2004, the Texas Education Agency put a limit on the percentage of students it would allow into special education programs, which affected thousands. The Houston Chronicle exposed the illegal policy in 2016, and the investigation led to the Texas Legislature barring the agency from imposing such limits. 

Even so, the cap is still having an effect. A new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis and Cornell University found that students denied access to special education were significantly less likely to graduate from high school and also less likely to enroll in college.

Briana Ballis is a co-author of the study, and says the policy had long-lasting effects, especially on students with more mild impairments like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD.

“It kicked off students from participating in special education, and also led to large reductions in the number of students who were eventually diagnosed across the state,” Ballis says.

She says low-income and minority students with disabilities were affected most. Those students lacked resources outside the classroom to help them succeed. Ballis says now, it’s up to TEA to check up on those students – most of whom are now college-age – to try to make up for the policy. 

“Since we find such large effects on college enrollment and attainment, I think it’s going to be important to follow up with students who were impacted by this policy,” she says.

Editor’s note: the headline was updated to reflect that TEA ended the cap in 2017 after the Houston Chronicle’s investigation was published in 2016.


Written by Libby Cohen.