In an Oct. 19 letter, officials from the U.S. Department of Education dissected the Texas Education Agency’s proposed plan for overhauling special education for students with disabilities. Officials approved some parts of TEA’s plan, but also said Texas should do more to make sure school district officials understand how to comply with federal special education law. Federal officials also plan a monitoring visit in early 2019.

“TEA has already completed more than half of the required activities in that Corrective Action Response,” Education Commissioner Mike Morath said in a statement. “We continue to adhere to a commitment to transparency and engagement throughout the plan’s implementation.”

The letter said TEA should take a “representative sample” of school districts and thoroughly review their policies and procedures for identifying students who may need special education. It also should specify how it will identify and hold accountable school districts that do not comply with federal law.

In another blow to special education services in Texas, the state’s decision to spend $33.3 million less on students with disabilities in 2012 will likely cost it millions in future federal funding after an appellate court found that Texas violated federal law. In a 13-page November ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a three-judge panel questioned the state’s method for allocating special education funding.

If states reduce funding, the Department of Education reduces the amount of federal aid by the same amount. Now the federal government has the option to collect the $33.3 million penalty in one chunk or spread it out over several years. The penalty is about 3 percent of Texas’ annual $1 billion federal special education grant, according to TEA officials who said the penalty would have minimal impact on special education programs.