Above photo courtesy of Jim Bowen
Last September, the Houston Chronicle published a seven-part series of articles that exposed an astonishing fact: for years, the state of Texas had set a cap on the percentage of students in public schools who could receive special education services.
The paper’s reporting showed that starting in 2004, state education officials arbitrarily decided that no more than 8.5 percent of children in public schools in the state could receive special education services. At the same time, the national average of students requiring special ed services was somewhere closer to 13 percent. The decision to implement that cap, say educators and policymakers in Texas, has likely denied needed services to tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of children over the past 13 years.
The Chronicle series was reported on by the paper’s statehouse reporter based in Austin Brian Rosenthal. Rosenthal has won numerous honors for his reporting in this series, including a prestigious George Polk Award. The Houston Chronicle was also recently a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Public Service.
Full disclosure: Rosenthal is the brother of one of No Wrong Answer host Kyle Palmer’s very good friend, whom he met while teaching in Houston. Kyle taught in Texas for four years while this policy of capping special education services was in place. He doesn’t remember ever hearing about it. Rosenthal says he heard that a lot from educators he spoke to for this story. The policy was never publicized or promoted. But once enacted as part of a state accountability system, schools and districts worked hard to lower the percentage of students they gave special ed services in order to meet this state target.
This story took Rosenthal more than a year of reporting and hundreds of interviews with teachers, parents, students, and state officials. It all began, Rosenthal says, with an unlikely sounding tip.