FRIENDSWOOD, Texas (KTRK) -- Friendswood Independent School District's new school year is underway, but they're using an old building to make a difference.
The Therapeutic Education Center is being housed at the district's old junior high campus, and its purpose is to help students with autism and other developmental disabilities.
"The Therapeutic Education Center at Friendswood is a 3-to-4-year labor of love," Dahria Driskell, FISD Executive Director of Special Education, said.
The center gives these students a place to receive individualized, specialized attention when the traditional classroom setting proves ineffective.
It's the result of a $1.3 million grant from the Texas Education Agency, and the district will be sharing it with Alvin and Pearland Independent School Districts.
"We were routinely sending kids one-to-three hours away for private services in schools where we did not have local control over how they were supported," Driskell explained.
The goal is to get these students back into the regular classroom with as little disruption as possible.
Friendswood ISD's decision to open the center comes as experts say Texas is behind other states regarding special education initiatives in public schools.
Angelica Medrano spent nearly two decades working in special education programs at Houston Independent School District, and now runs EDU PrepSpace in Houston.
Her business helps students, their parents, and their school districts devise effective learning plans for kids with disabilities and learning differences.
"I do see families coming in from other states, and many times parents are surprised at the lack of services in Texas," Medrano told ABC13. "They're coming from a state with a good amount of services."
A U.S. Department of Education investigation in 2018 found that the state of Texas failed to provide adequate services to special education students.
Additionally, a presentation from the Texas Education Agency said public schools in the state had a deficit of $1.89 billion when it came to funding special education in 2020.
Driskell and Medrano said despite those issues, the state is improving when it comes to special education.
"We're growing," Driskell said.
She added that Friendswood ISD is equipped to have 10 students at the new facility as this year gets underway, but they do hope to expand that number in the future.