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2009-08-06 digital edition

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2009-08-06 / School

Significant Progress on State Schools

by Stephen E. Ogden (R-Bryan) Chairman, Senate Finance Committee

For nearly 100 years, Texas has accepted the responsibility of caring for some of our most vulnerable citizens in state-run residential facilities. Over 4,800 Texans with mental retardation, many of whom have additional diagnoses, trust their lives and care to these institutions. As the 81st Legislature opened in January 2009, however, the system was in serious trouble.

The U.S. Department of Justice was investigating several allegations of abuse and neglect. Advocacy groups were demanding closure, preferring state-supported independent-living or home-based care options. Videotape surfaced in which residents were goaded into punching and kicking matches for the perverse entertainment of the staff. The Governor had declared state schools a legislative emergency. What a mess!

While drafting the state budget, I worked on this issue with the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS), advocacy groups and families, and the lieutenant governor, members of the senate, and their staffs. When we introduced the Senate Bill 1, it included a special provision known as Rider 48 related to reform of the state schools and expansion of other services for those with mental retardation and related disabilities.

Rider 48 has now become law. It makes a major investment in improving state school care while increasing the availability of home and community-based services. Over the next biennium, state school funding grows by 10% to $1.145 billion and community-based services funding by 50% to $1.538 billion.

With Rider 48, the state is required to provide comprehensive care in local communities for thousands of Texans with mental retardation, intellectual disabilities, and developmental disabilities. This will provide much more support for individuals and families who need help, but don't want placement in a state school.

The state is also required to reduce the number of residents at the state schools to optimize their treatment without forcing anyone who wants to be there to leave. There is no plan to close the state schools; in fact, Rider 48 specifically states that DADS will not close facilities. Our goal is to develop a better system of institutional care with fewer patients, more staff, and better funding.

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