An educator's view: Special education can’t be the only target to cutThere are now 128,000 special-education students in Minnesota’s K-12 public schools. The cost of working with these students is $1.8 billion per year.
By: Joseph Legueri, Duluth News Tribune
There are now 128,000 special-education students in Minnesota’s K-12 public schools. The cost of working with these students is $1.8 billion per year.
In March the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor (Program Evaluation Division) completed an evaluation of the special-education programs in Minnesota’s K-12 public schools. The report concluded that, “The Legislature should consider options to reduce school district reliance on general-education funding to pay for special-education expenses. At the same time, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) should work with school districts to identify feasible cost controls in special education.”
On March 24, a front-page story in the News Tribune stated, “The equipment, space and staff needed for
special-education students are expensive — and that expense is being pointed to as one of the main reasons for deficits in school districts throughout the state.” The article indicated schools in Duluth had to “increase class sizes, shrink course offerings and lay off teachers” to be able to pay for the state mandates for special education.
But besides special-education programs for students with disabilities, schools have other programs that cost taxpayers tons of money.
Minnesota public schools have the Post-Secondary Education Option, or PSEO. Through this program high school juniors and seniors (and now some ninth- and 10th-graders) can enroll in college courses. The state pays for the tuition, the fees and the books. (And here I always thought it was the parents’ responsibility to pay for the education of their children.) According to a Minnesota Department of Education Rigorous Course Taking Fiscal 2012 Report to the Legislature, more than $25 million was paid by the department for the 25,000 students enrolled in PSEO.
Also, there are 149 charter schools in Minnesota, according to the Department of Education. There are 37,000 charter school students. Minnesota Statute 1240.11 states that districts receive $4,378 in general-
education dollars per charter school student. Where charter schools provide transportation, transportation funding also is received. Charter schools cost Minnesota taxpayers approximately $180 million per year.
Our public schools also have the Concurrent Enrollment Program (CEP), the Advanced Placement (AP) Program, and the International Baccalaureate Program (IB). The following figures related to these programs are from the Department of Education’s Rigorous Course Taking Fiscal 2012 Report to the Legislature.
Concurrent Enrollment Programs offer challenging courses of study as part of regular class offerings for students in secondary school. The state reimbursement for CEP schools is $150 per student. In 2012, there were 21,695 students enrolled in CEPs. The cost to the state could have been as high as $3.2 million, but reimbursements are capped at $2 million.
Advanced Placement (AP) courses also are taken in high school. If a student were to take an AP course in English, for example, and if he were to pass the AP exam with a 3, 4 or 5, he could waive college freshman English. The total number of AP exams given in 2012 was 62,022.
The International Baccalaureate Program (IB) offers students the skills to work in a rapidly globalizing world; 59 Minnesota schools participate. The total expenditure for the AP and IB programs in 2012 was more than $4.6 million.
It is my opinion that anyone intent on reducing only the special-
education budget is a bigot. It appears they think bright students are better than special-education students when, in truth, all students are just as worthy.
Special-education students are vulnerable. They need adults to help them — not to blame them for being a burden on their schools while cutting the very programs that offer them the most help. If cuts have to be made they better be made across the board so every student is affected — not just special-education students.
Joseph Legueri of Gilbert is a writer, lifelong Iron Range resident and retired educator who taught grades 7-12 for 35 years at Biwabik and Mesabi East schools.