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Edina, MN: 14% increase in SPED in 3 yrs; using gen ed $$$ for SPED

May 6, 2022, Brooklyn Park (MN) Hometown Source: Edina School Board supports full funding for special education

The Edina School Board passed a resolution last month urging the federal government to fully fund special education programming.

The resolution follows a recommendation by the Association of Metropolitan School Districts and similar pushes by school boards across the metro to fill a gap in special education funding at the federal and state levels. The board took action on the item at its April 11 meeting, calling for strong congressional bipartisan support to pass the IDEA Full Funding Act, which is intended to authorize a 10-year federal investment plan to fully fund its stated financial commitment to special education….

IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, was enacted in 1975 to ensure that children with disabilities have access to free public education. The law committed the federal government to pay up to 40% of the costs to implement the program.

But since implementing the program, the federal government has continued to invest at 15% or less of funds to support IDEA, according to a 2019 report by MinnPost. The difference between the amount the district receives from the state and federal government to provide special education services and how much it costs the district is referred to as the special education cross-subsidy.

A district must fill that gap in funds by taking out of its general education budget, Jeff Jorgensen, the district’s director of student support services, told the Sun Current….

The number of children being served across the country through IDEA has continued to increase, leading to districts needing to adjust their general education budgets to accommodate that need, the board resolution states. Districts must meet state and federal mandates on providing those special education services.

By allocating more of the general education fund for special education services that would have otherwise been fulfilled by government funding, other programs within a district are unable to be supported financially, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

“Schools and districts are sometimes forced to divert funds from programs that serve all students (including students with disabilities) into IDEA. This should not be a choice schools and districts are forced to make,” the Center’s website states, supporting a full funding commitment.

In Edina Public Schools, the number of students seeking special education care has increased by 14% in the past three years, Jorgensen said.

For the fiscal year of 2020, the Edina school district had about a $7.7 million cross-subsidy, which amounts to $843 per student, according to the board resolution. This is part of the cross-subsidy statewide, which totals over $673 million, and is expected to grow, the resolution also noted.

The total 2020 special education cross subsidy in Edina makes up about 6% of the general education budget, Jorgensen said.

The dollars spent on covering the cross-subsidy are funds that could have gone toward smaller classroom sizes, additional support staff or intervention programs, Jorgensen said.

“Those programs don’t grow or those programs remain at a point that are largely insufficient to meet the needs of students that are not identified as special education but may be struggling with at-risk conditions,” he added….

He added, “It is this vicious cycle we’re caught in because the federal government has failed to meet their own obligation.”

Related state funding for special education has also been a priority issue for the board’s Legislative Action Committee. In January, the board approved its legislative platform, which included a call for eliminating the cross-subsidy.

Each year, the state sets aside a certain amount of money for such costs, but does not include an inflationary factor in the funding formula, leading to less funds received, Jorgensen explained.

Board documents state that Minnesota’s current surplus is prompting a conversation in the Legislature to help eliminate the statewide special education cross-subsidy. Last week, the Minnesota House of Representatives passed an omnibus K-12 education package, providing $422 million in special education cross-subsidy aid in 2023, among other measures. The bill must still be passed by the Senate before moving forward.

The package also includes a plan to increase funding to $992 million in the next biennium. “The additional funds would help close educational opportunity gaps and help create a more equitable system of education in the state, according to supporters,” the Minnesota House website said.

In his 26 years of being in the field of education, Jorgensen said the issue of the special education cross-subsidy has come up every year. The resolution passed by the board shows Edina is taking a “hard charge at this,” he said.

The resolution helps “elevate the conversation with legislators,” Greene said.

She added, “It also helps us join forces with other districts across the state so that collectively, we can have a louder voice. …

The other thing it does is it helps the community understand how important this issue is and the impact that not funding state-mandated and federal-mandated programs and services has actually on all students.”…

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