Last October, Texas education officials told lawmakers they would likely owe the federal government $33 million for illegally decreasing funding for kids with disabilities. They reassured them it was a fraction — just 3% — of their federal special education grant and wouldn’t hurt students.
Now, the state’s estimate for how much it could owe has risen to $223 million, nearly a quarter of Texas’ annual special education grant, officials confirmed to The Texas Tribune Friday. That total includes an estimated $111.6 million it may have to pay back for failing to spend it on kids with disabilities this fiscal year.
The U.S. Department of Education has found Texas in violation of a federal statute prohibiting states from reducing their funding for kids with disabilities from year to year, and warned the state that a financial penalty was coming. Now, advocates are concerned that Texas could lose an even bigger chunk of its funding, harming its efforts to overhaul special education for hundreds of thousands of students.
With seven weeks left in the legislative session, lawmakers could still spend the $111.6 million needed this year to avoid a federal penalty for 2019 — but the budget is well on its way to being decided.