New special education funding formula surprises school districts

February 25, 2019 06:30 PM

Public school funding in Minnesota seems to be a vexing problem every year in Minnesota and 2019 is no exception. This year, many school districts are being caught by surprise because of a special education funding formula passed in 2016 that is just now going into effect.

"I was mad... it's frustrating," said Waconia School Superintendent Pat Devine.


Devine says his district needs to cut $1.26 million from its general fund budget to pay for special education services. This comes just over a year after Waconia voters approved a new operating levy of $525 per student to help pay its expenses. Now the district has to figure out how to pay special education "cross subsidies" from the general fund that have risen from $687 per student in 2015 to a projected $1,210 in 2019.

"As you well know it's a complex story," Devine told KSTP on Monday. "So people looking at it... there's frustration right away and we totally understand that."

The funding problem has roots going back decades when the federal government first mandated special education services be provided with the original goal of 40 percent federal funding and 60 percent state funding. However, federal funding today is only about 16 percent with the rest of the cost falling to the state and local school districts.

Waconia isn't the only district dealing with a gap when it comes to funding special education. The Department of Education tracks "cross-subsidies" across Minnesota which is defined as the difference between the cost to provide special education and the money the district receives from the state and federal government to pay for it.  Below are the cross-subsidies for the largest school districts in the Twin Cities.

"I'm hearing from school districts across the state about the underfunding of special education services," says Rep. Jim Davnie, (DFL-Minneapolis), chair of the Minnesota House Education Finance Committee.

He says Gov. Tim Walz has proposed $76 million in new special education funding to help local school districts deal with the new shortfalls. However, it will require agreement between the DFL-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate by the end of May.

More from KSTP: 

School District 191 facing major budget cuts, parents upset

New state system determines 526 schools area 'top performers,' 485 to receive additional support

Dayton wants emergency funding for Minnesota schools

"We're accountable to our voters and if voters make their voices heard on education funding, we're more likely to get to an agreement," Davnie says.

In the meantime, Waconia and other school districts will have to pass their own budgets before they know what the legislature will do. That could mean program cuts and teacher layoffs that would only be restored if the legislature comes through with new funding.

Click here to see the funding gap (cross-subsidy) for school districts and charter schools in Minnesota.

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Tom Hauser

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company


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