HOUSTON (FOX 26) - When parents of Special Ed students stumbled onto the disturbing truth that schools were being paid a cash bounty for their kids’ confidential records, they went "bazonkers" and then they started digging.
"If these parents hadn't gotten together and had not done the research on it, this thing would have gone underneath the radar for sure. This thing would never have surfaced," said Louis Geigerman, a well-known Houston Special Education advocate.
Turns out, school districts across Texas were getting paid to ship highly private, student information, including medical and social welfare, reports to a year-old, private, data mining company named SPEDx.
"There's just a lot of sensitive information in there that we don't want to get in the hands of the wrong people," said Maggie Suter, founding member of Texans for Special Education Reform and the mother of a son challenged with Down Syndrome.
It didn't take parents like Suter long to learn the transfer was part of $4.2 million "no bid" deal.
"It doesn't pass the smell test," said Suter.
Internal e-mails obtained by Texans for Special Education Reform reveal that TEA staffers openly questioned the no-bid contract with one asking, "Is this legal?".
"That immediately should put up people's antenna. This wasn't a competitively bid contract. A questionable vendor at best, with little or no experience obviously, only one state did they do it, Louisiana and their report was garbage," said Geigerman.
Friday, under mounting pressure, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath terminated the SPEDx contract saying, "Significant concerns have been raised regarding our agency's processes. The efficacy of the project would be undermined without real support from parents and educators alike".
Morath went on to promise all student data transferred to SPEDx would be destroyed.
"It's a big relief to us that this information is going to be destroyed. Now we just want the proof that it will be," said Suter.
In an email to FOX 26, a TEA spokesperson said Morath has launched an agency-wide review of contracting procedures.
Suter and parents with TFSER are calling for the legislature to launch an investigation.
SPEDx has already received payment of more than half of the $4.2 million contract.