Special education makes it through tough review

Despite a $6 billion state deficit that was reduced to $2.7 billion at the close of the Minnesota’s 2009 legislative session, special education held its own for funding and even made some gains in the policy arena, most notably with the passage of the state’s first law concerning restraint and seclusion.

Funding

Special education regular aid was level-funded for 2010 at $734 million and for 2011 at $781 million. For K-12 regular education, however, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has indicated he will use a “mimic payment shift” to balance the budget.  Details of the plan were unknown at press time, but other payment shifts have been used in the past to delay payments to schools while still retaining the money on the state’s books to balance the budget.

Policy Changes

The special education task force, a legislatively mandated group created two years ago, provided its final report to state lawmakers this session.

The task force was created to compare the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requirements with Minnesota laws and rules and to determine which laws and rules exceed the federal ones. Composed of equal numbers of school professionals, parents, and advocacy organizations, the task force also made recommendations on which laws and rules could be eliminated and which ones could be revised.

Because of the group’s recommendations, key areas of Minnesota special education laws and rules that exceed federal regulation were retained, including transition during ninth grade, short-term objectives in individual education programs (IEP), conciliation, and facilitated (IEP) individual education programs.

However, the burden of proof in a due process hearing was changed from school districts to the “party seeking relief,” which was influenced by a Minnesota  8th District Court ruling in January 2008 (L.R. v. Spec. School District #1, No. 06-3572). The issue of burden of proof came to the national forefront of special education discussion in 2005 due to the U.S. Supreme court case, “Schaffer v. Weast.”  Consequently, it will be more important than ever for parents to keep good documentation and records of all school communications in case they need to exercise their due process rights.

Effective in 2011, Minnesota will have its first law for use of seclusion and restraint procedures for  children with disabilities. This law allows use of the restrictive procedures in emergencies only, encourages schools to establish effective positive behavior interventions, and requires specialized training for staff. Restraint involves forced immobilization of a child’s body while seclusion involves forced isolation. Both are used until a negative behavior has stopped. While there have been federal laws restricting the use of these procedures in mental health facilities, schools have been left un-mandated to determine appropriateness of using these procedures and establishing standards.

One disappointment is that the “New Minnesota Miracle” bill championed by Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) was taken out of the final K-12 education bill. This bill would have simplified and increased state public school funding, including special education.

Future issues

With the 2009 legislative session at an end, parents and advocates need to keep on eye on the $205 million of federal stimulus for special education flowing into Minnesota for the next two years. School districts are being given the flexibility to use some of their federal funds to reduce their spending for special education locally.

Consequently, it is important for parents and advocates to ask school districts:

  • What are the spending priorities for special education stimulus money?
  • How much money will be spent in each priority area?
  • How were special education spending priorities determined?
  • How will you be reporting to the public on special education stimulus spending?

Parents and advocates seeking more information about federal stimulus special education money can visit www. ideamoneywatch.com/states/mn for a listing of resources or contact Kim Kang, Public Policy Director, PACER Center, at (952) 838-9000 or kim.kang@ pacer.org

Kim Kang is the Public Policy and Early Childhood Director at PACER Center. For more information, visit PACER.org

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