The blame game over the 8.5% indicator…

Now that everyone has agreed that the 8.5% indicator we used to have in the PBMAS was a bad idea, the blame game is underway.  The legislature has ordered TEA never to do such a thing again.  The Department of Education has ordered corrective action.  And the governor has accused school districts of a "dereliction of duty."

That's a crock.  The fault here lies squarely with TEA.  It was a mistake to adopt a specific number and tell school districts that the numbers in special education should match up with that number.  I believe it was a mistake made by good people acting in good faith, but it was a mistake nevertheless.

The staff at TEA was trying to meet legislative demands to contain special education costs.  In the aftermath of the debacle, someone has uncovered the interim report to the legislature in 2004 that recommended a cap on special education enrollment as a means of containing spiraling costs.  With its budget cut, its staff shrunk, and the increase in pressure from the legislature, the folks at TEA made a couple of important decisions.

First, monitoring would no longer be done by teams of people traveling all over our enormous state. Instead, it would be based on data.  Much cheaper.  The politicians would like that.  Second, the PBMAS would include an "indicator" addressing the numbers in special education.

That's why we got the 8.5% indicator.  The folks at TEA viewed the number as a guideline, but it was interpreted by many as a cap.  It's very clear in hindsight that TEA did not adequately explain that the number was not a cap.  The message did not get out, and someone at TEA should have noticed that.

At the local level, educators tried to meet the targets set by the state agency.  What would you expect them to do?  The Agency is responsible for the implementation of IDEA and for overseeing the school districts.  When the Agency says that you should have no more than 8.5% of your kids in special education programs, the locals are going to try to meet that target.

So it's a crock for Governor Abbott to accuse local educators of a dereliction of duty.  It is his Agency headed up by the governor's appointee that bears full responsibility for this colossal mistake.