St. Michael-Albertville school board members went to bat for special education funding last Monday evening, when they approved two resolutions lobbying for additional special education funding from the state and federal government.
At the federal level, Superintendent Dr. Ann-Marie Foucault said the federal government pledged to fund 40 percent of the additional costs of educating special education students when they enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children in 1975 (now known as IDEA, or Individuals with Disabilities Act). However, she said the federal government has never funded more than 15 percent of special education services.
School districts are squeezed financially because they must fulfill the educational mandates for special education students that are required of them by state and federal laws, yet they are not given the funding to implement all of those mandates. This causes school districts to take money from their general education budget to fund special education, which is called special education cross subsidy. In 2015-16, the STMA school district used $3.1 million or $467 per pupil on cross subsidies.
“We certainly value special ed. kiddos,” Foucault said, “but we are urging legislators to reduce the cross subsidy and do what’s right for kids.”
At the state level, the district joined over 120 other school districts across the state to ask the Minnesota legislature to reduce school districts’ cross subsidy by 25 percent each biennium until the state is fully funding special education costs. For STMA that would mean an additional $775,000 per biennium in special education funding.
“When you do the math, imagine how many teachers you could put back in the classroom, how many advanced classes we could offer, how many art opportunities,” Foucault said. “Really that’s what it comes down to: opportunities for our kids.”
The state resolution also called for the state to form a task force to study the issue and come up with better solutions to eliminate cross subsidies for Minnesota districts. One board member, Hollee Saville, said a task force is fine but not enough to make swift improvements.
“I’d focus on the push for funding,” Saville said. “The task force is to look long term, but the funding needs to change now. We can’t be sitting around waiting for them to, five years from now, start implementing changes from the task force.”
Though STMA’s cross subsidy is substantial, it’s actually one of the lowest in the local area. Big Lake had over $3.3 million in cross subsidies in the 2015-16 school year, which works out to $976 per pupil for their smaller district. Buffalo had $4.8 million, which is $760 per pupil. Elk River’s cross subsidy was $10.5 million, or $748 per pupil unit, and Monticello’s was $3.4 million or $764 per pupil.