Parents, Advocates, Experts Testify before Senate Education Committee

(AUSTIN) — The Texas Senate Education Committee Monday (Aug. 18) sought solutions to problems related to providing services to students with special needs, including parental rights, transitional services and the roles of involved state agencies. Parents and education leaders testified at the State Capitol and addressed the interim charges issued by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. He directed the committee to study the effectiveness of public school programs that serve students with intellectual challenges, including autism. Specifically, the committee is considering whether special education services are preparing students adequately for post-secondary opportunities.

Witnesses discussed the problems parents face during dispute resolution proceedings with school districts, including the challenges they face during mediation and litigation. There also was testimony regarding House Bill 1230 (2007) by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, and Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, related to services provided to youth with disabilities transitioning from school-oriented living to post-schooling activities, services for adults and community living.

The committee also is reviewing the availability and quality of the supports and services provided by adult services agencies for individuals with disabilities and is making recommendations for improving public school special education programs and the coordination of adult education services among state agencies.

Senator Zaffirini serves on the Senate Education Committee and also chairs the Senate Finance Higher Education Subcommittee and the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee.

“We must ensure that the needs of students with special needs are met,” Senator Zaffirini said. “Adequate state funding is critical to ensure the success of special education programs. Teachers should participate in appropriate continuing education, and the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) must be implemented adequately.

“When faced with a decision to challenge the school district’s ruling regarding a student with special needs, the high cost of legal fees often is prohibitive for low- and middle-income families to seek this route.”

She also emphasized “the importance of giving parents ample resources and support to communicate effectively with the school districts and preclude expensive litigation.”

The committee will make recommendations to the 81st Texas Legislature that convenes on Jan. 13.

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