School Districts are mandated by the state to provide important special education services. But, the state is not covering the cost.
On Monday, May 9, 2022, Minnesota education organizations hosted an event to call on legislators to stabilize Minnesota’s education funding system by addressing the growing special education funding shortfalls.
SAINT PAUL — Parents, school board members, school administrators, and concerned citizens from across Minnesota are calling on the Minnesota Legislature to use a portion of the historic state budget surplus to fulfill their obligation to fully fund important, and mandated, special education services. According to data from the Minnesota Department of Education, Minnesota’s special education funding shortfall is projected to be $822 million in the current school year.
The shortfall impacts every school district in Minnesota. School districts are forced to cover the special education shortfall by redirecting funds meant for general instruction – known as the cross-subsidy – and asking their taxpayers or voters to approve operating referendums. All students are impacted by the state’s failure to fully fund special education programs and services.
Minnesota has a long history of providing comprehensive programs and services to help students with special needs reach their full potential. Providing these important services is the right thing to do. And, the Legislature can, and should, do the right thing and provide the necessary funding.
“School districts, education organizations and parents/caregivers are united in calling on the Governor and legislators to stabilize Minnesota’s education funding system by fully funding special education programs,” said Osseo School Board Chair and Association of Metropolitan School Districts Board Chair Kelsey Dawson Walton.
Providing funding for special education is the responsibility of the federal and state governments. Congress has never come close to providing the 40 percent of the costs of special education programming envisioned in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Ultimately, however, it is the responsibility of Minnesota to pay the costs not covered by the federal government.
The shortfall in special education funding has long created budget challenges for school districts. This year is no exception. A recent statewide survey shows that 87 percent of districts that responded projected a deficit in the 2022-23 school year.
“We have experienced firsthand the struggles our districts have had addressing the unfunded costs of providing necessary and required services to our students with disabilities,” said Jamie Nord, Special Education Director of the St. Croix River Education District and president of the Minnesota Administrators for Special Education. “Now is the time for the state to help by taking on a greater responsibility for those costs.”
Significant factors contributing to the projected shortfalls are the chronic underfunding of the special education programs and the failure of the general education formula to keep pace with inflation over the last two decades. Specifically:
Special education is under-funded by $822 million in the current fiscal year. That means that, on average, Minnesota school districts are diverting $868 per pupil from their general fund to cover the shortfall.
As school districts are forced to use general fund revenue to cover the underfunding of the important special education programs, the general education formula has fallen significantly behind inflation since 2003. In fact, the formula would be $925 per pupil higher if it had simply kept pace with inflation over that time span.
The good news is that with the record $9.253 billion surplus, the Governor and legislators can, and should, address the shortfalls facing school districts and mitigate looming layoffs and program cuts. As one legislator said, “It’s time to put our money where our mandates are.”