The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Texas Education Agency owes the federal government millions of dollars for failing to match a special education grant.
The New Orleans-based appeals court Wednesday denied TEA’s request to overturn a U.S. Department of Education ruling, calling the state’s argument “unpersuasive.”
According to the Education Department, Texas owes the federal government $33.3 million because the state reduced its spending on special education in the 2011-2012 school year.
Attorney Steven Aleman with the advocacy group Disability Rights Texas said his organization doesn’t want to see a loss of funding but believes it’s important for the state to be held accountable.
“It’s going to be painful to lose those dollars, but it’s only going to be painful if we choose to not dip into the (state’s) rainy day fund or other fund and say we will make up that lost federal aid since it was our mistake anyway,” Aleman said. “Hopefully there is a long-term commitment to say we will put the state dollars into the system that the system deserves, and these children who need these extra costly services is just as important as any other student, and we will do what we have to meet their need.”
By law, states that receive federal aid for special education are required to maintain the same level of state spending year over year.
In May, the U.S. Department of Education ruled that $33.3 million would be removed from Texas’ next federal special education grant to make up the difference.
The Texas Education Agency appealed, arguing that the state had maintained support because it continued to use the same method to distribute funds to schools: a weighted formula based on the number of services the schools said its students need.
It’s unclear whether the TEA will appeal again. A spokeswoman for the agency said Thursday that TEA is still reviewing the ruling.
According to Aleman, Texas could be on the hook for additional years of underfunded state special education spending. According to a Disability Rights Texas analysis of state documents, Texas reduced state special education spending by $41.6 million in the 2016-2017 school year.
The potential loss of federal aid comes as Texas attempts to ramp up support for special education. State officials estimate that it will cost $3 billion over the next three years to comply with a federal mandate to overhaul special education after the Education Department found that Texas had broken federal disability law by failing to identify thousands of children who needed special education services.
Camille Phillips can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @cmpcamille
CORRECTION: The day of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling has been updated throughout the story. TPR regrets the error.