Special education spending hurts other classrooms, Minn. schools sayAn increasing amount of the Duluth school district’s general education fund is being diverted to special education, officials say, a circumstance seen statewide that is hampering the ability of school districts to reach other education goals, such as reducing class sizes.
By: News Tribune staff and Associated Press, Duluth News Tribune
An increasing amount of the Duluth school district’s general education fund is being diverted to special education, officials say, a circumstance seen statewide that is hampering the ability of school districts to reach other education goals, such as reducing class sizes.
An audit delivered to state lawmakers Wednesday urges them to find ways to ease the special education burden on school districts, whether by supplying more state money or revising regulations the state sets beyond federal requirements.
“We concluded that the funding arrangements for special education contain disincentives for controlling spending,” state Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles wrote in his office’s report.
The report says that the median school district now devotes one-third of its basic education budget to special education. That’s a 40 percent jump
between 2000 and 2011 when adjusted for inflation. It is money that would otherwise be put toward general education costs.
The amount of general education money the Duluth district uses to pay for special education has grown from $4.5 million in 2000 to more than $8 million in 2011, said Bill Hanson, business services director. On average, it costs $14,126 a year to educate a special education student in Duluth.
About 14 percent of the state’s public school students are in a special education program, up slightly from a decade ago. In the Duluth school district, that number is 15 percent. Special education can involve individualized learning programs for students with physical disabilities, speech and language impairments or about a dozen other disability categories.
The report suggests lawmakers also look at rewriting some state regulations. Several Minnesota laws exceed federal requirements, including the standards used to place children in those classes and workloads on teachers.
State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said she is committed to making changes in special education to assist school districts without paring back the state’s obligation to serve the needs of students.
The audit, Cassellius said, “affirms what we have long known: Our state must do a better job of funding special education to meet individual students’ needs and to support the teachers who make a difference in their lives.”
Teachers union president Doug Dooher, of Education Minnesota, responded to the report with a plea for lawmakers to support Gov. Mark Dayton’s request for $125 million more in special education payments to schools.
“Special education has become an expensive morass of over-regulation that prevents many of our educators from doing what they do best — teach children with special needs,” Dooher said. “It’s time to make changes.”