Letter to the Editor: It’s time to end Minnesota’s Special Education Cross-Subsidy

Published 6:04 pm Friday, April 8, 2022

There seems to be constant chatter at the Legislature about the $9.25 billion surplus. Many organizations want a piece of the surplus. The first thing the Legislature must do is pay for services that school districts are required to provide but have never been fully funded.

For many years, the state and federal government have “mandated” programming and services for students with special needs (which is good). However, they have grossly underfunded these mandates (which is bad), forcing districts to use “regular” education funds to pay for the mandated special education programs. These unfunded mandates have impacted the educational programs in districts across the state unequally and unfairly.

Imagine, the additional educational programming Austin Public Schools could offer if there were $5,777,905 of available funding that now must be spent to meet the special education mandates! Again, the mandated services for students are needed and appropriate. No one questions that. But the Legislature is obligated to fund them, especially at a time when the funding is available.

Every school district in Minnesota has a special education cross-subsidy. Each school district must pull money from a general fund, which could pay for much-needed counselors, social workers, or other staff. It may be $20,000 in Lanesboro or $25 million in Osseo.

Earlier this session, HF 2657, a bill submitted by St. Cloud Rep. Dan Wolgamott, was heard in the House Education Finance Committee. And the Senate companion bill (SF 4124) has been introduced by Sen. Kari Dziedzic. The bill would eliminate the special education cross-subsidy that every school district in Minnesota is experiencing. This would cost about $750 million but would, in our opinion, be the best thing the state Legislature could do for public education in Minnesota! We now have the funds to eliminate this unfunded mandate for the first time!

Please get in touch with your legislator and encourage support for HF 2657 and SF 4124. We need to encourage the fight for public education funding of mandated programs so that all districts are on equal grounds, all taxpayers receive equal educational benefits from their tax payments, and all students have a fair opportunity for a quality education.

Sincerely,

Austin School Board