This piece was originally published in The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. Share Bob Daemmrich for The Texas TribuneTexas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath.Preparing to ask the federal government for $1 billion in special education grants, Texas education officials have indicated they do not expect to be able to adequately educate kids with disabilities until June 2020.Texas is in the middle of a federally mandated overhaul of special education after a federal investigation found the state had for years been effectively denying students with disabilities the tools and services they needed in order to learn. Last May, state education officials submitted an application for federal funding saying they would comply with all federal requirements by this January, a timeline that appears to have been extended by a year and a half.State education officials say they have completed their special education overhaul and are waiting for the federal government to clear them.“TEA has met all its commitments made in the corrective action plan and has initiated a five-year strategic plan to not only meet compliance with federal requirements, but to significantly improve the standard of service to students with disabilities across Texas,” said spokesperson DeEtta Culbertson late Wednesday.Before the state formally applies for an annual special education grant from the U.S. Department of Education, it must post the application on its website for two months and allow the public to comment.The TEA indicated in the application that it could not ensure all students with disabilities get an adequate public education, that students are properly identified for needed special education services or that school districts are being monitored — until June 30, 2020.That has angered disability rights advocates, who used what should have been a perfunctory public hearing Wednesday afternoon to air their grievances against the state for its repeated failure to overhaul special education.Educators “cannot say that we’ll delay for another 18 months providing” free, appropriate public education, Kristin McGuire, who represents the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education, told a panel of TEA special education employees. “I implore the agency to set out guidance as quickly as possible and to partner with districts … to make sure we’re providing what we need to for our kids.”News of the delay comes not long after a commission tasked with reforming the state’s school finance system failed to include recommendations to help students with disabilities. Instead, the commission — which included several lawmakers — decided to wait until state education officials could fully implement promised changes to its special education program.In 2017, lawmakers forbade the TEA from capping the percentage of students receiving special education at 8.5 percent. That percentage has since risen to 9.1 percent — thousands more students.The federal government has repeatedly reprimanded Texas for violating special education law, most recently last year for decreasing spending for kids with disabilities — which a New Orleans federal appeals court ruled was in violation of federal statute. That ruling will cost Texas $33 million in federal grant money, about 3 percent of its total annual special education grant.A federal judge wrote in the unanimous opinion that Texas’ system for funding special education “creates a perverse incentive for a state to escape its financial obligations merely by minimizing the special education needs of it students.”Advocates also expressed concern Wednesday that the TEA’s recent grant application did not address this loss of funding.TEA officials have said they’re building infrastructure to hold school districts accountable for not providing students with disabilities with the appropriate tools or classes they need in order to learn, and to find the thousands of students who have been left out of those services in the past. They changed the structure of their departments overseeing special education, hired a special education director last August after the position had been empty for nine months and are in the process of soliciting applications for more than $20 million in grants to help school districts overhaul their programs.
As we get closer to the end of the week, reflecting on some of the craziness of the past few days was clearly in order. This week’s Geekout gave us a little bit of time to stop and reflect on some of the goings-on in the tech world.Microsoft is still making headlines, and unfortunately they still aren’t good ones (at least in my opinion). The company has reversed its Xbox One policies due to the intense negative feedback, but in doing so managed to strip some of the features that were exciting about the console. At the end of the day, though, the PS4 is still $100 cheaper and the positive vibe surrounding Sony right now is going to carry on for a little while.The real question is whether or not the infamously short attention span of the internet collective will help or hurt Microsoft and its Xbox One come launch time.Intel looks ready to help do something about the incredibly slow progress of wireless power solutions, but instead of teaming up with the better known Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) to help make Qi better it looks like Intel has taken sides with the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP). While that doesn’t mean Intel will refuse to work with the WPC in the future, it does give cause to step back and wait for the possibility that A4WP and Intel will be pushing new wireless charging tech in the next generation of phones.In our video this week, Sal and Russ spent some time talking about their experiences with Kingdom Rush. This impressive tower defense game is new to the Google Play Store, but a sequel to the game is already available on the App Store. Our app of the week was a look at a new fitness app which took the 7 Minute Workout and stuck it in app form, making it easier to track your progress. (The maker of the app is EndLoop Systems, if this wasn’t entirely clear in the video.)Our weekly Geekouts happen live over on our Google+ page so if you’ve got a topic you’d like us to talk about on next week’s broadcast, leave us a message over there or right here in the comments.
Although the Oculus Rift is a great piece of kit on its own, it is fast becoming apparent the VR headset becomes even better when combined with other bits of tech. The Omni treadmill can be used to make moving around easy, and Atlas will enable holodecks to be a reality. Now creative tech company Globalcore has taken Oculus Rift in another direction by combining it with an bike and a Kinect sensor.Globalcore’s ultimate goal was to create a virtual reality version of the classic game Paperboy. They have fittingly called it PaperDude VR. The game was made possible by combining four pieces of tech. The Oculus Rift, Kinect, KickR, and a bike.The KickR sensor is used in conjunction with an iPad to tell how fast the bike is traveling, which is then relayed to the 3D world being viewed through the Oculus Rift. The Kinect is used to track the position and motion of the player’s arms. When they make a throwing action, it throws a paper in the given direction in the game. As for the 3D world of the game itself, it was created using Unity, with Minecraft-style blocky graphics.I think it’s the addition of Kinect that really makes this work as you can actually see your own hands and arms moving around without actually having to hold a controller. It must be weird at first, but it’s a really natural interface because you are doing the exact same actions as you would on a real bike throwing real papers.PowerDude VR certainly isn’t cheap to setup, and that’s mainly because of the $1,100 the KickR sensors costs. Add in the Oculus Rift, Kinect, and iPad, and this becomes a pretty expensive game of Paperboy.
Multiplayer gaming has shifted over the last generation of consoles from the person sitting next to you to thousands of potential opponents online. Still, the Xbox 360 was capable of supporting up to four controllers at once therefore allowing a decent size group to game together in the same room.The Xbox One is taking that connectivity a step further, though. Microsoft’s next-gen machine will cope with having up to eight wireless controllers connected at once. And those controllers can be up to 30 feet away from the console.Eight controllers may seem like overkill. I don’t think many games are going to ship with support for 8 players at once sitting there sharing a single TV, although, it does give Codemasters an incentive to develop a brand new Micro Machines game and football fans will be happy. However, I don’t think this is about eight gamers-eight controllers, it’s the potential for peripherals. By allowing so many connections Microsoft has set the Xbox One up to allow a gamer to connect multiple input devices and leave them connected.Microsoft has already stated that Kinect will be used to identify which player is holding a controller, so maybe that feature can be used intelligently with up to eight controllers. Say you have seven friends come over for a Killer Instinct tournament. They could all bring their own controllers, Xbox One can connect to all of them at once, and Kinect just figures out who’s turn it is to fight based on where they are sitting. That sounds like a great system to me if it works, and I’m sure there are other use cases.You also have to consider whether Microsoft did this just because they could, or because they saw a genuinely new use case that they have yet to announce or focus on in any way. One thing is for sure though, peripheral manufacturers will be looking at this and figuring out if there’s any new gadgets they can market to fill up a few of those controller slots.