Time for state to pick up special education costs
For years, Minnesota school districts have swallowed the cost imposed on them by unfunded state and federal mandates — rules and programs the government says they must provide, but for which the government provides little or no funding.
One of these mandates, in particular, is the cost of providing special education. School districts are required to provide — rightly so — educational programs for special needs students. Those programs may require extra teachers and aides, special materials and curricula, separate classrooms and facilities. These cost money, and over the years the state has covered a mere fraction of the cost. Currenlty, the state pays 6.43% of the special education funding gap. The burden falls on the school districts’ general funds, which takes away money for other programs. Cash-strapped school districts must either pass levy referendums or cut programs elsewhere.
With the state’s massive $17 billion budget, Minnesota can afford to start picking up its share. Gov. Tim Walz’s budget proposal would provide $772.6 million in the next biennium and $849.1 million in 2026-27 for special education mandates, but that would only close the funding gap by 50 percent.
Rep. Dan Wolgamott (DFL-St. Cloud) has proposed closing the gap entirely. His proposal, HF18, would fully cover the cost, to the tune of more than $3 billion over the next four fiscal years.
The state is not alone in this lack of funding. The special education mandate was imposed by the federal government 50 years ago, and for 50 years it has not paid its funding commitment.
Whatever the state can do for special education would lift a great financial burden off the school districts in the state.