In two work sessions on Nov. 28 and Dec. 3, Lewisville ISD received updates on its special education programs and some financial items.
At the Nov. 28 work session, special education executive director Kathy Talbert, along with directors Alex Alexander and Lisa Davison, updated the board on the state of special education in the district. According to their presentation, since 2013, special education enrollment in LISD has risen from 9.8 percent of students to 11.8 percent, an increase of more than 1,000 total students. The program is facing a funding shortfall of just over $5 million from the state.
Special education in Texas has been in a state of upheaval since January when the U.S. Department of Education found that Texas had not been ensuring all students with disabilities were getting the help they needed. This came following a 2016 seven-part investigation by the Houston Chronicle which found tens of thousands of Texas children had been locked out of special needs education.
In 2004, the Texas Education Agency issued a directive that a maximum of 8.5 percent of students in any given school district should be classified as special needs, a designation that comes with special teaching resources, and began auditing school districts with a higher percentage of special needs children. By the TEA’s own admission to the Chronicle, that 8.5 percent number was not based on any research whatsoever. The U.S. Department of Education ordered Texas to remove the cap this year.
Lewisville ISD did not reduce its special needs enrollment to 8.5 percent, which is born out by public data.
“We’re really pleased that we can show evidence that, while the state had this 8.5 cap on representation in special education that the U.S. Department of Ed had a real issue with,” Talbert said. “We clearly did not follow that cap established by the state, because we’re always about doing what’s right for our students.”
But across the state, an estimated 200,000 students already exist with special needs, and need to be identified and evaluated all at once. This need has lead to a boom in demand for special needs diagnosticians and educators, something the school district now has to navigate.
Alexander said that with the 8.5 percent cap gone, special education evaluations between August and October, the beginning of the school year when most evaluations take place, have doubled since just last year. He said there’s been a sharply increased demand for diagnosticians across the state.
“The competition for educational diagnosticians is quite intense right now,” Alexander said. “We’ve had great difficulty with diagnosticians not accepting our offer because they went with another district, for one reason or another.”
At the Dec. 1 work session, among other subjects, the board was briefed on the potential for entering a banking relationship with the American National Bank & Trust, though the parameters of this relationship were not specified.
District CFO Mike Ball said he was approached by a bank representative about their insured cash sweep program. Insured cash sweep is a savings account service that some banks can offer that has a higher rate of deposit insurance than other accounts.
Ball said the district had not looked at other banks or financial institutions that might participate in this program.
The school district will meet next at its regular meeting, 7 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Lewisville ISD Administrative Center.