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MN: 'When we see the rise of special education needs/more diagnoses of kids with special needs...'

Updated: Jan 4, 2019

Jan 3, 2019, MinnPost: From early ed to school safety: A look at the education issues Minnesota lawmakers are set to tackle in 2019 Heading into the upcoming legislative session, state lawmakers will be grappling with a number of pressing education issues — everything from school safety and student mental health to school funding and early childhood education. The state already carves out the largest portion of its general fund budget to support K-12 education, which accounts for over 40 percent of state spending. But with a projected $1.5 billion surplus heading into a budget-setting session, many lawmakers are entertaining requests to invest more in schools and education-related services. … Safety and mental health In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, school safety and student mental health quickly became a hallmark of the last legislative session. Lawmakers of both parties crafted proposals seeking to boost funding for everything from physical security enhancements for school buildings to police officers at schools and mental health services provided in schools. … Nelson says she’ll be looking to revive her Safe and Secure Schools Act, which the Minnesota Senate passed in a supplemental budget bill last year. It sought to provide funding for “hardening of the target” through building security features, as well as provide funding for additional mental health supports in schools, school resource officers, or any other personnel schools deemed necessary at the local level. “I know, in the Senate, that’s going to be one of our top priorities, early out of the gate,” she said. The incoming Majority Leader in the House, Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, says advancing funding for full-service community schools is a priority this session. This school model includes placing a greater emphasis on mental health services for students, who can’t always afford to access these services on their own outside of the school. This may mean creating “special funding categories” to ensure that state dollars that go to schools actually end up paying for additional student support services, he said. “The need for counselors and mental health support in schools is not necessarily required or seen in the general funding formula. So we will be looking at addressing those needs as well,” he said. … While Winkler says lawmakers will continue to support schools’ autonomy in choosing how, exactly, to spend the state dollars they receive, based upon the local needs that they identify, he says there’s a real need for lawmakers to take a closer look at special education costs. “When we see the rise of special education needs and more diagnoses of kids with special needs, I think looking at the high impact of special education costs on districts — which isn’t necessarily reflected in the funding formula — that’s important,” he said. He’s referring to the fact that many districts are forced to divert funding from their own general fund to cover the costs of providing special education services to their students. These services are federally mandated — as many agree they should be. Yet the federal government has long ignored its promise to cover 40 percent of these costs, leaving school districts on the hook to fill the gap.

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