The federal government has ordered Texas officials to eliminate an 8.5 percent benchmark on special education enrollment unless they can show it didn't keep children with disabilities from receiving appropriate educational services.
In a three-page letter sent Monday, the U.S. Department of Education directed the state to report back in 30 days on the benchmark's impact and on which school districts might have relied on it to deny special education services to children, the Houston Chronicle reports.
The newspaper revealed the existence of the arbitrary enrollment target in September, reporting that the policy has likely denied “tens of thousands” of kids special education services to cut costs.
The Texas Education Agency has denied that children with disabilities have been kept out of special education but has promised to review the issue. The agency said in a statement that it "welcomes the opportunity" to discuss its policies.
Read more from The Houston Chronicle’s investigation, “Denied.”
Background on the benchmark
Since the 8.5 percent policy went into effect in 2004, the statewide enrollment rate has fallen from around 13 percent, near the nationwide average, to the lowest percentage in the country.
In 2015, the percentage fell to exactly 8.5 percent for the first time, the Chronicle reports. “If Texas provided services at the same rate as the rest of the U.S., 250,000 more kids would be getting critical services such as therapy, counseling and one-on-one tutoring,” according to the Chronicle.
Since 1975, Congress has required public schools in the United States to provide specialized education services to all eligible children with any type of disability. Texas is the only state that has ever set a target for special education enrollment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.