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***Minnesota: Financial crisis; too many SPED students with increasingly complex needs

January 19, 2019, Minneapolis Star Tribune: Minnesota schools facing 'crisis level' in special education funding http://www.startribune.com/minnesota-schools-facing-crisis-level-special-education-funding-gap/504601631/ School administrators say the mandate's growing financial burden is threatening their ability to provide the same for all students. Soaring special education costs are squeezing the budgets of Minnesota schools — and quickly becoming school districts’ top priority for the new legislative session. While public schools are required to provide special education services, federal and state governments cover only a portion of the cost. That means Minnesota districts must dig in their budgets, pull out money they would otherwise spend paying teachers or remodeling aging buildings, and collectively fill in a gap that this year is expected to balloon to $724 million. For many districts, that exercise has become increasingly painful, resulting in teacher layoffs, program cuts and swelling class sizes. School administrators are quick to note that they cannot — and would not — deny special education students their right to an education that meets their needs, no matter the cost. But they say the mandate’s growing financial burden is threatening their ability to provide the same for all students. “Districts are taking ever-increasing amounts of money out of their general education funds to pay for special education costs,” said Brad Lundell, executive director of Schools for Equity in Education, a group that represents nearly 60 districts across the state. “And that, I think, is reaching a crisis level in the state.” Many school administrators and advocates say the problem begins with the federal government, which has never followed through on its decades-old pledge to cover 40 percent of special education costs. Currently, the federal government pays for about 8 percent of Minnesota’s $2.2 billion annual special education expenses. The share of the cost picked up by the state has ticked up in the last decade, rising to about 63 percent this year. But it’s not enough: more Minnesota students are requiring special education services, including a growing number with particularly complex medical, mental health or behavioral needs. The cost to serve them is rising at a faster rate than the overall costs of education, and the federal government isn’t responding in kind. … “I would say this is probably the No. 1 issue for us from a budgetary standpoint,” said superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak. “From a standpoint of what financially keeps us awake at night, it certainly keeps us awake.” … All told, Minneapolis has the state’s largest special education funding gap: $55.3 million, or about $1,400 for every student in the district. …