The problem of funding special education has gone on for decades in Minnesota, and it’s time to solve it.
We can’t count on the federal government. It has never fulfilled its promise to fund 40 percent of special education costs to the states.
And the dysfunction in Washington means funding is unlikely to arrive anytime in the next decade.
States, unfortunately, are faced with federal mandates but inadequate funding to support those mandates.
The federal government funds about 8 percent of special education costs while states fund about 63 percent, according to a report in the Star Tribune. Local school districts are left to pick up the tab, a gap of about $724 million of Minnesota’s $2.2 billion in special education funding.
Everyone, it seems, sees the need to fund special education, with many saying it is a moral obligation to provide education to every child’s needs. If that’s the case, then someone has to step up and fund it and fill the funding gap.
When then-Gov. Mark Dayton asked the Republican Legislature last year to fund deficits at school districts to the tune of about $138 million, Republicans balked, with some arguing schools were to blame for their deficits.
The leader of the state’s major business group, Charlie Weaver, of the Minnesota Business Partnership, told the Star Tribune the state doesn’t have a K-12 funding issue because schools have been given funding increases under Dayton.
But the reality seems to tell a different story. More and more school districts are taking money away from regular programs to meet the mandated funding under special education. And the number of special education students is growing to a point where school administrators are calling the gap a “crisis.”
A bipartisan group points to special education paperwork as an onerous burden and budget drain and has proposed cutting some of the time special education teachers have to spend on the paperwork.
It sounds like a good idea until you hear parent groups say the procedures that take time also make sure their children are treated fairly in their programs and their needs are met.
The state and Gov. Tim Walz need to make a bold move on special education and fund a good portion of the gap. Schools and parents need to work together to reduce paperwork and bureaucracy that takes money away from students’ needs.
We’d like to see the state pay more and school districts try to be more efficient with the dollars they do have. With a state surplus of $1.5 billion, there should be room in the budget.
Special education funding has been an incessant problem for too long. An educator/governor like Walz should be the one to solve it.