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There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference.
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Public Schools are the Only Choice for Texas Students with Disabilities



Texans for Special Education Reform  
Cheryl Fries     

Texans for Special Education Reform Public Statement

AUSTIN: For some time, organizations and individuals with an interest in privatizing Texas public schools have promoted “school choice” options for students with disabilities - such as vouchers, education savings accounts, and “special” charter schools - as a vehicle for opening “school choice” for all students.  They do so under the guise that “school choice” would provide Texas school children with more equitable and appropriate opportunities. As parents, teachers, advocates, and allies for the educational civil rights of Texas students with disabilities, Texans for Special Education Reform believes that appropriately funded and legally compliant public schools are the only real choice for these kids.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act are federal laws that, among other rights, mandate a free appropriate public education for students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment, protect them from discrimination, and provide an education that is of “equal benefit.” Additionally, the Supreme Court has held that the educational programming for students with disabilities also be “appropriately ambitious.”  These federal laws provide mechanisms to ensure these students receive a variety of modifications, accommodations and related services and supports to help them succeed in school and prepare them for a variety of opportunities upon completion.

School choice vouchers require parents to sign away these federal civil rights. Most charter and private schools pick and choose their students, unlike public schools whose doors are open to all children, resulting in widespread discrimination against students with disabilities. Educational savings accounts largely benefit only families whose children are already either enrolled in private schools or who are choosing specialized segregated settings that are the best choice for only a very few. The IDEA already mandates an inquiry regarding appropriate educational placements. Individual education program committees must address a continuum of alternative placements, which includes private school placement, that most appropriately meets the educational needs of students with disabilities, as well as informal and formal mechanisms for dispute resolution should parents disagree.

Decades of scientific research have proven that properly funded traditional public schools with well-trained teachers achieve better outcomes for all students. For far too long, Texas has been creating a problem in order to achieve the wrong solution.

Legislators and leaders genuinely interested in improvements for all students, including those with disabilities, should focus their efforts on – 

  • Appropriately funding general and special education in Texas;

  • Enhancing teacher training;

  • More robust oversight of TEA’s handling of the informal and formal dispute resolutions processes that exist under IDEA, most importantly, the special education due process system;

  • And ensuring that special education educators and experts and people with disabilities and their families are the primary voices in creating policy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 15 percent of American children have some form of disability. This means that as many as 31,650 of these children are constituents in every Texas Senate district, and 6,600 in every House district. Every one of them deserves to have legislators who make “the choice” to support strong public schools.


Cheryl Fries
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We envision a state in which all individuals with disabilities are identified, and receive an education that maximizes their future potential for post-secondary education, employment, community participation, and independent living.

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