The Potluck

Education associations urge lawmakers to address special education funding shortfalls

By: - May 9, 2022 3:10 pm

The Minnesota State Capitol. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Nine statewide education associations on Monday called for lawmakers to cover schools’ special education funding shortfalls with a portion of the state’s projected $9.25 billion budget surplus.

Minnesota school districts don’t receive enough state or federal funds to cover the costs of providing mandatory services for students with disabilities, resulting in a funding gap that districts have to fill with other state or local money. The shortfall — known as the special education “cross-subsidy” — is projected to total $822 million statewide this school year, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. 

With two weeks left in the regular legislative session, the DFL-controlled House and GOP-controlled Senate are still more than a billion dollars apart on proposed special education cross-subsidy aid. The House education budget bill includes $422 million for the current fiscal year and $992 million for the next two years. The Senate bill includes no additional funding. 

“Every fight about resources is coming down to the political will of the parties,” said Joe Gothard, St. Paul Public Schools superintendent. “What we’re saying is we’d like to unite as a state and come together for the children of our state.”

The cross-subsidy has become increasingly costly for school districts over the years. In St. Paul Public Schools, the gap has surpassed $51 million — or roughly $1,321 per student. The costs are climbing in rural school districts as well; for example, Faribault, where the cross-subsidy equals $1,687 per student and Yellow Medicine East, where it’s reached $1,518 per student.

Mike Funk, superintendent of Albert Lea Area Schools, said the cross-subsidy is a burden for taxpayers in his school district. The district receives $3.1 million in levy and referendum funding to cover some of its $3.9 million cross-subsidy, he said.

“Local taxpayers throughout the state are being asked to address the cross-subsidy at the district level,” Funk said. “Not all communities can afford this.”

The joint news conference was held by the Minnesota School Boards Association, Association of Metropolitan School Districts, Minnesota Association of School Administrators, Minnesota Rural Education Association, Schools for Equity in Education, Minnesota Association of School Business Officials, Minnesota Administrators for Special Education, Minnesota Elementary School Principals Association and the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.