AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas education official has called special education students “slow learners” and questioned whether it’s worth spending public money on their education.

Scott Brister is the chairman of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, which is tasked with recommending to lawmakers by the end of the year how to improve the state’s struggling school finance system, the Austin American-Statesman reported .

Commissioners discussed Tuesday whether districts should have discretion in how they spend special education dollars when Brister asked if the state should “spend that on the brightest kids or the slowest learners.”

“I think I said in a speech years ago, you know, as a pure economist with no heart would say, ‘Why are we spending all this money on special ed? These kids are the ones who are going to get the least return from the dollars on,'” he said later in the meeting. “And part of the answer is … because the law says to, and part of the answer is because it’s not just about (gross domestic product). It’s about what kind of society we’re going to be.”

Special education advocates have called the comments uninformed and offensive. Texans for Special Education Reform would be willing to introduce Brister to children with disabilities and show him research on how those students can succeed, said Cheryl Fries, co-founder of the group.

“Parents brought it to our attention and were very, very upset,” Fries said. “His choice of language is the language of a far too prevalent soft bigotry of low expectations about kids who have disabilities. Since when do we measure children as a commodity? Since when do we view a child based on their potential return on investment?”

Brister said his comments were taken out of context and that “of course” he believes state funding should be spent on special education students. He said he didn’t use “slow learners” in a disparaging way and is happy to use a more acceptable term.

Information from: Austin American-Statesman,

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