For thousands of Texas parents, the start of the school year has taken on a new meaning: an end to the conflicts, struggles and disappointment with the public school system.
A growing number of parents of special-needs children are opting out of public schools, deciding instead to home school or to pay for pricey private schools.
The number of secondary students who left public schools to home school increased 50 percent from 2003 to 2010, reaching 2,040 7th- through 12th-graders, according to the Texas Education Agency. The number of middle- and high-school special education students who withdrew for private school increased 75 percent, reaching 772 in 2010.
That's not to mention thousands of younger students whose reasons for leaving public schools aren't recorded, or the countless families who give up on public school before their child receives a needed "special education" classification. With Texas' diagnosis rate falling to an all-time low of 8.8 percent in recent years - the lowest in the nation - the label and its accompanying services are harder than ever to come by.
"It's the free market at work. People are voting with their feet," said Tim Lambert, president of the Texas Home School Coalition. "Parents just get frustrated with the bureaucracy of the public school."