State Offers Money To Special Ed Students Affected By School Shutdowns
DALLAS — Texas public school students with severe cognitive disabilities could receive up to $1,500 for tutoring, therapy, and other support services to address any learning disruptions suffered during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Texas Education Agency and Gov. Greg Abbott announced the creation of the $30 million effort — the Supplementary Special Education Services program — last week.
Students would qualify for a one-time spending account for up to $1,500 in services if they are currently enrolled in public school, were enrolled during the closures brought on by the pandemic in Spring 2020, and are identified as having a low incidence disability, defined as a severe cognitive impairment, medically fragile issues or deaf-blindness.
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The program would not supplant services provided at schools as outlined by each student’s individual education program.
“This program is a win for Texas families and children with special education needs, many of whom have endured education disruptions due to COVID-19,” Abbott said in a statement. “Education is vital to the future of every Texas child, and every student is entitled to a high-quality education.”
Nearly 590,000 students in Texas receive special education services, and they have been among those hardest hit as schools closed their doors and pivoted to virtual-only instruction because of the COVID-19 crisis.
Nearly 59,000 students fit the eligibility criteria for the new program but only 20,000 accounts would be created, according to the agency. Priority would be given to those families receiving income assistance or those who have documented financial need.
An online application portal will be available in late 2020, with a four-month enrollment window. A list of approved vendors will be available soon on the TEA’s website, said spokesperson Jake Kobersky.
As originally reported by the Texas Tribune, the $30 million will come from the federal coronavirus relief bill, the CARES Act.
Some in the teaching and disability advocacy communities said that Abbott’s new program was far too limited in scope to address the urgent need of the state’s special education students.
Kym Rogers — a litigation attorney for Disability Rights Texas — said that families with students who have disabilities have struggled mightily since March. Many of them have been unable to access the array of services their children need, she said. The $1,500 cap, which the state has acknowledged could go up if fewer families sign up for help, doesn’t go very far for therapy or tutoring, Rogers added.
“Any additional resources are welcome, but there also has to be a comprehensive plan to help provide services to these families and students, and this does not appear to be that,” she said.
Clay Robison, public affairs specialist for the Texas State Teachers Association, echoed those sentiments, saying any program needed to be adequately funded.
“This proposal is very limited, and the needs of Texas’ special education school children are much greater,” Robison said. “I don’t know how much will be required, but this program seems to be little more than a start. We hope the state at some point contributes more.”
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