Op-Ed: Federal government must deliver on its special education funding obligation

February 1, 2019
In The News

While we are on opposite sides of the aisle in Congress, we want many of the same things for our neighbors, including timely and affordable health care, safer communities or brighter futures for our children. Sometimes, we just have different ideas on how to get there.

On one issue in particular, we share a lot of common ground. We are both parents of children with special needs and have found that the federal government is not meeting its funding obligation to Minnesota’s students who need special education services.

Three decades ago, Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, requiring the federal government pay up to an additional 40 percent per pupil for students with disabilities. Unfortunately, the federal government has not once followed through on this promise, only paying a reported 8 percent of Minnesota’s special education bill, leaving state and local educational agencies responsible for the other 92 percent.

In Minnesota, both the number of students needing special education and the per-pupil cost to deliver services have risen drastically. This often leaves schools no choice but to take money out of general education funds to meet the needs of their special education students, resulting in teacher layoffs, reduced funding for other critical programs and the postponement of building maintenance. These skyrocketing costs are affecting our educators’ ability to provide quality education for all of Minnesota’s students.

On top of that, Minnesota’s education funding formula relies on local property taxes and voter-approved levies. This means that congressional districts like ours, which encompass both suburban and rural communities and lack solid funding bases, experience further strain in many of our local schools.

The education-funding problem has been a topic of great debate not just in Minnesota but across the nation, and a variety of solutions have been proposed. We believe the best path forward is to hold the federal government accountable. Of course, we realize that guaranteeing the federal government reach its obligation of 40 percent of the states’ special education bill will not happen overnight. However, we are committed to leading and working with our colleagues to eventually put an end to this funding crisis.

Every student should be allowed to succeed. This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s one that every Minnesotan agrees on. We are committed to working together and across the aisle to ensure the federal government finally upholds its decades-old commitment. Our priority is to make sure Congress continues to take steps toward its promise to our students with special needs and their parents every year, and our educators can strengthen special education services while meeting the needs of every student.

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