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***MINNESOTA: SPED (AUTISM) CRISIS; govt wants to find 'WHAT'S DRIVING COSTS'

Mar 29, 2019, MinnPost: ‘We can’t sustain this’: special-ed shortfalls strain Minnesota districts as lawmakers struggle to find long-term solution https://www.minnpost.com/education/2019/03/we-cant-sustain-this-special-ed-shortfalls-strain-minnesota-districts-as-lawmakers-struggle-to-find-long-term-solution/ With more Minnesota students enrolling in special education services and public aid failing to keep pace with the cost of providing those services, the shortfall that school districts have to cover by tapping into general education dollars continues to grow. Data show that shortfall — known as the cross subsidy — totals $724 million this year in Minnesota. Without any new state action, the Education Department projects that will grow to $858 million by 2023. The state automatically allocates more money toward special education costs every year, but it still can’t keep up with rising cost, said Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, who chairs the Senate E-12 Finance and Policy Committee. “It just shows the skyrocketing, escalating cost of special education,” she said. Legislators and the governor say they want to budget enough new money for special education this session to prevent school districts from subsidizing even more over the next two years. But they don’t yet have a long-term plan for chipping away at the shortfall. The governor hopes to convene an education funding task force to tackle those bigger questions. House Education Finance Committee Chair Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, said he thinks that would be a good place to dive into special-ed enrollment and funding trends. “We know there’s rising demand, there’s rising costs, and that it’s really challenging school districts across the state to be able to plan and manage their budgets responsibly,” Davnie said. “Those dynamics just demand more conversation, more attention.” Nelson said a task force could be helpful, but it would depend who was on it. Many districts are in untenable positions. Waconia Public Schools Superintendent Pat Devine said up to 20 percent of the general education funding his district gets from the state now goes to special education, affecting class sizes, support staff levels, and program offerings. Voters passed a new operating levy for the district in the fall. They also cut the budget by $1.26 million, he said. But an audit shows the cross subsidy increased more than expected and now Devine is looking at more cuts if the state doesn’t do something. “There’s a lot of districts that are hurting,” Devine said. “It’s become unmanageable. We can’t sustain this.” … Schools are seeing the largest growth in the number of students with autism spectrum disorder or developmental delays. There is also notable growth in the number of students with other health disabilities, learning disabilities, and emotional or behavioral disorders. The trend baffled some legislators at a committee meeting in January. Davnie said that lawmakers will need more information to understand the factors contributing to the rise in enrollment as they determine a long-term strategy for funding special education. … … “We are not going to win the money race,” Nelson said. “We have to do a better job of understanding what’s driving our special education costs.” …