Letter to the editor: It’s time to end Minnesota’s special education cross-subsidy – Austin Daily Herald
There seems to be constant chatter in the Legislative Assembly about the $9.25 billion surplus. Many organizations want a share 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” programs and services for students with special needs (which is good). However, they grossly underfunded these mandates (which is bad), forcing districts to use “regular” education funds to pay for mandated special education programs. These unfunded mandates have had an uneven and unfair impact on educational programs in districts across the state.
Imagine, the additional educational programming Austin Public Schools could provide if there were $5,777,905 of available funding that now must be spent to meet special education mandates! Again, mandatory services for students are necessary and appropriate. Nobody questions that. But the legislature is obligated to fund them, especially at a time when funding is available.
Each school district in Minnesota has a cross-grant for special education. Each school district must withdraw money from a general fund, which could pay counselors, social workers or other essential staff. It can cost Lanesboro $20,000 or Osseo $25 million.
Earlier this session, HF 2657, a bill introduced by St. Cloud Rep. Dan Wolgamott, was heard by the House Education Finance Committee. And the related Senate bill (SF 4124) was introduced by Senator Kari Dziedzic. The bill would eliminate the special education cross-subsidization experienced by all school districts in Minnesota. It would cost about $750 million but would be, in our opinion, 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 reach out to your legislator and encourage support for HF 2657 and SF 4124. We must encourage the fight for public education funding of mandatory programs so that all districts are on a level playing field, all taxpayers receive benefits education equal in their tax payments, and all students have a fair chance to receive a quality education.
Austin School Board