Inadequate Funding for Special Education in Texas Strains District Budgets

Ballinger News Staff

Texas doesn't fund special education enough — and it's hurting districts' pockets

Plano ISD’s Decision to Close Schools Impacts Deaf Education Program

Shawnda Kracja is determined that her daughter not be known as “the deaf kid.” Her daughter, an incoming third grader at Davis Elementary, has thrived in an inclusive environment where deaf and hard of hearing students have been supported for decades. However, this is set to change as the Plano ISD board of trustees recently voted to close Davis Elementary and three other schools due to budget constraints. The deaf and hard of hearing students from Davis will be relocated to Harrington Elementary for the 2025-2026 school year.

Plano is among many Texas school districts grappling with funding shortfalls. Disability advocates highlight a significant gap in special education funding, estimated at $2 billion, which leaves districts to cover the costs. Even affluent districts like Plano are struggling to find the necessary funds.

Increasing Demand for Special Education

The number of students enrolling in special education in Texas has risen significantly. The state previously had a cap of about 8.5% for special education enrollment, which was removed in 2018. According to Steven Aleman, a senior policy specialist with Disability Rights Texas, the removal of the cap has led to an increase in special education enrollment. However, the state has not sufficiently increased funding to match this growing demand.

Special education students are more costly to educate, and while districts receive extra funds from state and federal sources, these funds are insufficient. Aleman points out that there is a gap of approximately $2 billion between what it costs to educate students with disabilities and the funding provided by the state.

Adding to the financial strain, Texas schools lost $300 million in federal special education funds last year after the Texas Health and Human Services Commission lost an appeal against a federal audit that found it was overbilling Medicaid for special education services.

Impact on Davis Elementary’s Deaf Education Program

Kracja emphasizes the inclusive culture at Davis Elementary, where her daughter is just another student, not singled out because of her hearing impairment. This environment, built over years, will be disrupted by the move to Harrington Elementary. The teachers at Davis are experienced in working with deaf and hard of hearing students, many of whom use ASL interpreters, hearing aids, or cochlear implants connected to microphones worn by their teachers.

Sarah Wainscott, an assistant professor of deaf education at Texas Women’s University, notes that it will be challenging for teachers at Harrington who have not previously worked with deaf and hard of hearing children. Having teachers experienced with these students’ needs is crucial for their education.

Financial Pressures and School Closures

The state budget allocates extra money for regional day programs like the one at Davis Elementary, but Aleman argues that the funding is still insufficient. Programs for deaf and hard of hearing students are particularly expensive, as advanced technology, though beneficial, is costly.

Plano ISD has been facing a growing budget deficit since 2017. The decision to close Davis and three other schools is expected to save the district about $5.2 million annually. Additional savings include avoiding a $340 million expenditure for rebuilding the aging campuses, which were constructed in the 1970s.

Despite being in a wealthy area, Plano ISD does not retain all its property tax revenue. The state sets a basic allotment of about $6,160 per student, and any additional funds collected by the district are redistributed to less wealthy districts. The basic allotment has not increased since 2019, but inflation has driven up costs for the district.

A bill that proposed increasing the basic allotment and revising the special education funding formula did not pass in the last legislative session. Governor Greg Abbott threatened to veto any education funding legislation that did not include school vouchers, which ultimately stalled the bill.

Broader Implications for Texas School Districts

Plano ISD is not alone in facing these challenges. Districts in Irving and Richardson have also closed schools due to declining enrollment, which reduces state funding and leaves more empty desks. Plano ISD’s enrollment has decreased by 7,700 students over the past 12 years, with further declines projected. This trend has left the district with about 18,000 open seats, expected to increase to 21,500, making it unsustainable.

Closing schools has been an emotional decision for the community. Parents of students at Davis Elementary, like Liz Whitaker, who has learned sign language to communicate with her friends, feel the loss deeply. The inclusive environment at Davis has been a significant part of their children’s education.

Dylan M. Rafaty, president and CEO of the North Texas Disability Chamber, empathizes with the parents but also stresses the importance of preparing deaf and hard of hearing students for integration into broader society. He believes the district will work to ease the transition for these families and that self-advocacy will help rebuild the supportive culture at the new school.


The closure of Davis Elementary and the relocation of its deaf education program highlight the broader issue of inadequate funding for special education in Texas. As school districts across the state continue to face financial challenges, tough decisions and significant impacts on students, families, and communities are inevitable. Despite the difficulties, advocates and educators remain committed to ensuring that all students, including those who are deaf and hard of hearing, receive the support and education they need.

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