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A Look at Special Education in Texas

A special education report from Texas Education Agency (TEA) shows that more than 475,000 students in Texas received special education services during the 2016-2017 school year. Unfortunately, more than 200,000 unidentified students need special education services according to "TEA Eliminates Enrollment 'Cap' On Special Education."

As a result, Texas public schools expect to see an increase in special education enrollment. And with that comes a need for more qualified special education teachers.

How Texas State Laws Work with Federal Laws

One of the more important factors of special education is understanding how state and federal laws work together. Federal laws pertaining to special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) describe what states are required to do to meet the needs of students. States can pass laws to enhance these federal laws. State laws, however, cannot reduce protections or contradict federal law.

Special Education: Federal Law vs. State Law contains a chart that lists what Federal Law requires and what states can do when creating laws. Special Education Rules and Regulations helps educators, parents and stakeholders understand the federal regulations and Texas State Laws related to special education.

To be able to receive federal funding, states must identify state-imposed rules, regulations or policies that are not required by federal regulations or IDEA. For example, TEA's Texas State Rule Not Required by IDEA or Federal Regulations references "Texas Administrative Code §89.62. Support of Students Enrolled in the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and Texas School for the Deaf."

The purpose of the code is to determine who is responsible for the cost of the student's education. Federal law does not dictate this. Therefore, the Texas Education Code and Texas Administrative Code supply the rules and regulations for funding. This neither reduces protection nor contradicts federal law.

The Need for More Qualified Special Education Teachers in Texas

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) collects state data on special education personnel under IDEA. This data shows that Texas had a little over 22,000 special education teachers in 2014. National Center for Education Statistics states that 451,000 students, or 8.6 percent of the student population, in Texas received special education services in 2014. This averages out to one teacher for every 20 students.

DOE's 2017 Determination Letters on State Implementation of IDEA indicates how each state fares in implementing IDEA Part B (Assistance for Education of All Children with Disabilities) and Part C (Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities) for a fiscal year. This report grades each state's performance in one of four determinations on its efforts to implement IDEA.

These determinations are:

  • Meets requirements.
  • Needs assistance (one year).
  • Needs assistance (two or more consecutive years).
  • Needs intervention.

The good news is that Texas meets requirements for Part C. But the state needs to improve on Part B implementation. This is an area where general education classroom teachers and special education teachers can make a difference.

If the 200,000 unidentified students receive special education services, then Texas will need almost 10,000 more teachers to support the increase.

How to Become a More Qualified Special Education Teacher

One way for teachers to get started is to enroll in a Master of Arts in Special Education program. The in-depth knowledge they gain from such a program may lead them to find ways to better implement Part B of IDEA.

According to, 62 percent of special education teachers possess a master's degree and 29 percent have a bachelor's degree. Salaries vary by school district, job title, years taught, leadership role, degrees and certifications.

Pursuing a master's degree in Special Education may improve a teacher's chances of landing the job they want. The type of job depends on the degree, the program and the courses taken. Some job possibilities for someone with a master's include curriculum specialist, intervention specialist or administrator. People in these roles may be in a stronger position to advance the special education program in their districts and Texas.

It may be a challenge to complete master's degree coursework while working full time along with personal commitments. Many schools, especially those offering 100 percent online degree programs, provide flexibility for employed professionals.

These online programs make it possible for students to do classwork around their schedules and at their own pace. While online programs have a set time frame for completion, students do not lose valuable study time because of a commute to a campus.

Those who would like to explore the possibility of earning a master's degree in special education may want to look into the University of Texas Permian Basin's online MA in Special Education. In this program, students study theories of behavior, classroom best practices, importance of cultural diversity, research design and human development.

Students can complete the coursework in as few as 12 months. Accredited by CAEP, CEC and SBEC, the program requires earning 36 credit hours. Courses run for eight weeks and students can choose any one of six start dates to begin the online program.

The online program offers the same quality and content as an on-campus program. The flexibility of an online program makes it easier for students to balance school, work and family.

Learn more about the UTPB online MA in Special Education program.


U.S. Department of Education: 2017 Determination Letters on State Implementation of IDEA

National Center for Education Statistics: Number and Percentage of Children Served Under IDEA Salaries for Special Education Teacher With a Master's Degree or MBA

Understood: Special Education: Federal Law vs. State Law

Texas Education Agency: Special Education Reports

Texas Education Agency: Special Education Rules and Regulations

U.S. Department of Education: State Data on Special Education Personnel

CBS DFW: TEA Eliminates Enrollment 'Cap' on Special Education

Texas Education Agency: Texas State Rule Not Required by IDEA or Federal Regulations

Center for Parent Information and Resources: Part B of IDEA: Services for School-Aged Children

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