How Texas’ Limited Special Education Enrollment Hurt English Learners

Angel Vazquez is a 9 year-old who has hearing loss in both ears, trouble speaking and struggles to concentrate in class. For almost two years, his mom, Angeles Garcia, tried to get him evaluated for special education at his elementary school in Houston.

The Houston school district explained that since he’d emigrated from Mexico, Angel would have to wait another year to be evaluated.

“I really feel bad because my son is growing up and time is going by,” Garcia says in an interview in Spanish. “And what’s going to happen with him? He’s not advancing at all.”

The Houston Chronicle conducted a major investigation that revealed districts in Texas were being pressured by the state to provide fewer students with special education services. Because special education is expensive, the Texas Education Agency told districts to bring enrollment for special education to 8.5 percent; At that time, Texas’ average was close to 13 percent, the national rate.

After that, rates plummeted to the lowest in the country. Plus, English language learners who are enrolled in special education have it even worse, with the rate of enrollment only 7.6 percent in 2016.

Even though the overall number of English language learners in Texas has increased by around 40 percent since 2006, their enrollment in special education has fallen by 5 percent.

In the Houston Independent School District, where Angel goes to school, English learners in special education have it even worse. Their overall enrollment has increased by 11 percent since 2006, but their special education enrollment has dropped 35 percent.

when asked why English learners count for so few of the children receiving services statewide, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency said in an email that they’ve reminded districts of their legal obligations.

“In his visits with superintendents across the state, Commissioner Morath is confident school districts are aware of their obligations to identify and provide special education services to students,” said spokeswoman Lauren Callahan.

Luckily, this spring, Angel was finally evaluated and is doing better in school. However, Garcia worries about other immigrant families who still struggle to receive services because they don’t know the laws or speak English.


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