The Coalition for Public Schools, of which TCTA is an active member, opposed SB 1716, a special education supplemental services bill that was expected to be considered in the House Public Education Committee – without a public hearing or testimony – on Monday. The following were some of the Coalition’s objections, as included in a letter to Chairman Harold Dutton:
- SB 1716 creates a school voucher. The bill would create a voucher system in that public funds are being used to pay private vendors. While we appreciate the wording in the bill that the student would have to be a current public education student, funneling public funds to private vendors when districts have no involvement in this process is inappropriate.
- SB 1716 does not provide proper accountability –TEA does not have the internal capacity to manage the program. An additional FTE devoted just to this project of direct service delivery takes TEA away from its overall mission and focus. Without proper oversight the accountability for how money is spent will be inconsistent with the needs of the very children the bill proposes to help.
- SB 1716 does not effectively help children– There is no involvement by a district in the determination of a needed special education service or instructional material in this bill. ARD committees in Texas collaboratively determine a student’s needs through the development and implementation of his or her IEP. Without this process there is no guarantee that the student will be helped.
- SB 1716 broadens the authority of the TEA – Even with a limit of $30 million, the commissioner is still given broad discretion in funneling state funds to this program when the funds should go to schools to fulfill the educational obligations of students’ individualized education programs (IEPs).
The bill was not addressed at Monday’s meeting, and instead a public hearing was scheduled for Tuesday. Several amendments changed the bill substantially, and many of the groups that had been opposed – including the Coalition for Public Schools – changed their position to “on”. Among the amendments were provisions making it a grant program, setting a “sunset” date, and looping ARD committees into the process.