(The Center Square) – Texas special needs public school students will benefit from an additional $20 million in grant funding through a new program created last year.
The Supplemental Special Education Services (SSES) program was created in January 2021 to help families with children who have special needs by connecting them with additional support and services after their children suffered learning losses due to the state shutdown over coronavirus fears.
There were roughly 500,000 special education students impacted by school closures statewide in 2020, WFAA News8 Fort Worth reported. With school closures came the loss of daily routine and structure as well as not having access to in-person vital speech, occupational, or physical therapy that students with special needs relied on.
TEA created the SSES program in January 2021. The state legislature expanded it by passing SB 1716, sponsored by state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, and Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Galveston. It received bipartisan support and was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in June.
Since the program began a year ago, it’s received $110 million in funding. It initially received $30 million to launch in January 2021, It then received $60 million through the state legislature, and an additional $20 million in December 2021.
It provides $1,500 one-time grants for eligible parents/caregivers of eligible students served by special education that have been impacted by COVID-19 public school closures, TEA said.
Families of eligible students can use the funds to obtain educational materials and resources and/or services, such as additional speech therapy or other specific services offered by a list of providers on a TEA pre-approved list.
TEA’s website provides application and eligibility criteria for parents, and links to resources once parents have been approved for the program. It also provides outreach materials and resources to share as well as information about how professionals can become a service provider or approved vendor.
TEA also provides a range of free resources for parents with special needs children.
“Texas’ SSES program has been instrumental in bridging the educational gap for special needs students,” Texas Federation for Children State Director Mandy Drogin said. Drogin applauded the state providing additional funding to the program saying it will help expand educational freedom for families with special needs children in public schools.
Still, others have argued it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what parents spent out of pocket during school closures. Some parents reported spending more than $5,000 to pay for childcare and speech therapy, gutted their savings and even put their homes up for sale.
The program also doesn’t help parents whose children are enrolled in private school or are homeschooled – a growing number of the population after a record number of parents withdrew their children from public schools in Texas in 2020 and 2021.
By the Fall 2020 semester, the number of homeschooling families in Texas had nearly tripled from 4.5% in the spring to 12.3% by October, the U.S. Census Bureau reported. And the Texas Homeschool Coalition reported that interest in homeschooling by parents in 2021 broke 2020’s record by five-fold.
THSC President Tim Lambert said, “2020 set records for the number of families interested in homeschooling,” with 2021 “crushing those records.” By August 2021, the organization was “inundated with calls and emails from thousands of families” asking how they could begin homeschooling for the Fall 2021 semester.
To qualify for the SSES program, students with a disability must be enrolled in special education in a Texas public school in pre-K through 12th grade. Students who previously received an SSES grant are not eligible to receive another grant.