DALLAS — To battle shortages and support future teachers, the University of Texas at Arlington received $1.25 million in federal funds to help students pursuing degrees in special education.

The five-year grant will fund six students per year and cover 100% of in-state tuition, fees and other costs, such as textbooks, housing and child care needs.

Texas has faced a shortage of special education teachers for decades, which leaves many students with disabilities without services and support.

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Last school year, 702,785 public school students were enrolled in special education programs, nearly 13% of all students, according to state data. But only 36,110 teachers served such students, resulting in a teacher-student ratio of 1:19.

“Many of these teacher positions are being filled with uncertified individuals,” said Ambra Green, associate professor of special education at UTA. “They’re not getting the support that they need that’s also mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”

Students with disabilities are not only those with “visible disabilities,” but also those with invisible ones such as dyslexia or emotional disturbances, Green added.

When such students don’t receive services in school, Green said, not only do they fall behind academically, but it also places them at risk for dropping out.

“All of this can lead into what we call the school-to-prison pipeline,” she said. “Because they don’t have an education or a degree, they tend to get in trouble out on the streets, and then engage in the juvenile justice system, and then later the adult penal system.”

UTA’s special education program focuses on removing barriers to students wanting to pursue teaching careers and who’ll fill the shortage gaps, said John Romig, assistant professor of special education at UTA.

It can be difficult for aspiring teachers to support themselves financially while pursuing the necessary training, especially during their hands-on clinical teaching semester, Romig said.

“It’s really hard to hold a full-time job that semester, or even a part-time job, because you have a full-time job of being in a classroom every day, but you’re not being paid for it,” Romig added.

By providing students with full-tuition scholarships and additional financial support for living expenses, university officials want to ensure students can focus on their academic training, they said.

As part of the scholarship program, students will receive 1-on-1 mentoring and attend professional development opportunities such as conferences.

The program will award three scholarships for undergraduate students and three for graduate students each year over the course of the grant.

“Investing in our students who then invest in our special education students, we are investing in our society in general by developing citizens that contribute positively to our society,” Green said.

© 2024 The Dallas Morning News
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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