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TribBlog: Special Needs in Need

The Senate Committee on Education got a painful preview today of the problems in special education that they’ll have to tackle during the 2011 legislative session.

State Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano

The number of Texas students diagnosed with autism has quadrupled in the last decade. Special education students are twice as likely as students in the general population to wind up with suspensions. And some parents say the special education system is failing their children.

The Senate Committee on Education got a painful preview today of the problems they’ll have to tackle during the 2011 legislative session. Adding to the frustration, they’ll have to manage it with an $18 billion budget shortfall.

The committee met to learn more about challenges for special education in Texas. They heard from a slew of Texas Education Agency officials, from concerned health care workers and from emotional parents.

Senators were shocked by a report from Gene Lenz, deputy associate commissioner for special programs at TEA. Lenz told the committee that the number of autistic students in public schools grew 404 percent from 1999 to 2009, a statistic Committee Chair Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, called “mind-boggling.”

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, was outraged at TEA data that showed nearly double the number of special education students were placed in in-school and out-of-school suspension compared to the general student population. “I’m not angry at the messenger, I’m angry at what we’ve done to these kids,” Van de Putte said.

Shapiro said that despite a tough economic situation, lawmakers will work during the legislative session to address concerns in the growing special education community because they are “a group of students that we owe greater to.” 

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