Officials say the special education funding system in Minnesota is not keeping pace with rising cost to provide mandated services, resulting in major gaps in revenue and expenditures for many local districts.
Special Education doesn’t come cheaply, which is why the federal government in the 1970’s mandated that 40-percent of the additional cost be funded, but it has never lived up to that threshold.
As for the gap in the Mankato District, Special Education is underfunded by 5.9-million dollars a year due to only receiving 18-percent to cover costs, according to Superintendent Sheri Allen.
“You know we’re very proud of our special education department, our teachers and staff. But there comes a point when we’re underfunded like that, we are still absolutely going to do what we need to do for all students. When you look at our special education students and their needs, our goal is to make sure they get everything that they need as well. So that they are getting the opportunities to learn and are moving forward in their education, like everyone.”
The Saint Peter School District has a shortfall of nearly 1.9-million dollars a year, while New Ulm is at 2.5-million dollars and the gap in Waseca is 1.2-million dollars.
For smaller districts like Lake Crystal, St. Clair and Nicollet, the gap is 607-thousand dollars, 229-thousand dollars and 196-thousand dollars, respectively.
Like many other Minnesota schools, Allen says they will continue to spend money from the districts general fund to make sure that special education services continue to be delivered.
“That’s overall funding that if we had that 5.9-million to spend overall in our general fund, that makes a big difference. So if those 40-percent costs were taken care of, we’d be able to fund other pieces. For example, when we talk about our programming and our day-to-day operations and transportation and people. So, that’s that gap.”
Data from the Minnesota School Boards Association estimates the amount of funding school districts will be forced to pay for special education costs will reach an average of 815-dollars per student in fiscal year 2017.