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					OLA                           OFFICE OF THE LEGISLATIVE AUDITOR
                              STATE OF MINNESOTA

                              Evaluation Report Summary / March 2013

                              Special Education
                              Key Facts and Findings:                                 Several state rules on special
                                                                                       education are inconsistent with
                                  Many Minnesota statutes and rules                   Minnesota statutes.
                                   exceed federal requirements for
                                   special education, but detailed                Key Recommendations:
                                   analyses of the requirements’
Changes are                        educational and cost impacts are not               The Legislature should consider
                                   available.                                          options to reduce school district
needed in special                                                                      reliance on general education
education to                      School districts have had to divert                 funding to pay special education
increase equity in                 revenues from general education aid                 expenses. At the same time, MDE
its funding, help                  and local operating levies to pay                   should work with school districts to
control costs                      special education costs. Median                     identify feasible cost controls in
while meeting                      sources of revenue for special                      special education.
                                   education over fiscal years 2000 to
student needs,                     2011 were: 56 percent from state                   The Legislature should direct MDE
and ensure local                   special education revenues,                         to initiate independent analyses of
education                          33 percent from school districts’                   the economic and educational
agencies’                          general education and locally raised                impacts of potential changes to state
compliance                         revenues, and 11 percent from                       regulations.
                                   federal revenues.
with legal                                                                            The Legislature should consider
requirements                      School districts pay the costs of                   modifying laws that require resident
without creating                   special education when one of their                 school districts to pay special
undue workload                     resident students enrolls elsewhere,                education costs of students who
burdens for them.                  but resident districts have little                  choose to enroll outside the district
                                   control over those costs.                           where they reside.

                                  The Minnesota Department of                        MDE should evaluate its monitoring
                                   Education (MDE) has a process to                    process to identify ways to improve
                                   ensure school district compliance                   special education teachers’
                                   with federal and state requirements,                understanding of compliance
                                   but district representatives have                   requirements.
                                   voiced confusion about the process.
                                                                                      MDE should continue efforts to
                                  The number of students receiving                    streamline paperwork required in
                                   special education increased                         special education and identify
                                   11 percent from fiscal year 2000 to                 effective practices from districts to
                                   2011, while the overall number of                   encourage additional efficiencies.
                                   K-12 students statewide decreased.
                                   Over that time, full-time-equivalent               MDE should update its special
                                   special education staff increased                   education rules for consistency with
                                   about 25 percent.                                   Minnesota statutes.



 Room 140 Centennial Building, 658 Cedar Street, St. Paul, Minnesota  55155‐1603  •  Tel:  651‐296‐4708  •  Fax:  651‐296‐4712 
E‐mail:  auditor@state.mn.us  •  Web Site:  www.auditor.leg.state.mn.us  •  Through Minnesota Relay: 1‐800‐627‐3529 or 7‐1‐1 
2                                                                            SPECIAL EDUCATION



                    Report Summary                               Students in special education are
                                                                 assigned to an instructional setting,
                    Court rulings have established               depending on the percentage of the
                    students’ constitutional right to            school day they spend outside the
                    education regardless of their                general education classroom. Laws
                    disabilities. In response, special           require that students are educated with
                    education provides special instruction       their peers in the least-restrictive
                    and services targeted to the needs of        appropriate setting. For the 2010-2011
                    children with qualifying disabilities.       school year, more than 60 percent of
                                                                 Minnesota students in special education
                    The Minnesota Department of                  were in general education classrooms
                    Education (MDE) is responsible for           for most of the day—the least-
                    general supervision of special               restrictive setting.
                    education. Around the state, school
                    districts, charter schools, and numerous     Analysis of a sample of 137 students’
                    cooperative entities—collectively            IEPs and progress reports from the
                    known as local education agencies            2010-2011 school year showed that
                    (LEAs)—provide special education.            students met only 8 percent of their
                    They have responsibilities for               goals but made progress on 88 percent
                    identifying children with disabilities,      of their remaining goals. About
                    assessing children’s eligibility for         87 percent of students in special
                    special education, and developing            education graduated in 2010, which
                    individualized education programs            exceeded the target for statewide
                    (IEPs) that specify services to meet         special education graduation set by
                    each student’s needs. Both the state         MDE at 85 percent.
                    and LEAs have responsibilities for
                                                                 Many Minnesota statutes and rules
                    implementing safeguards that protect
                                                                 on special education exceed federal
                    the rights of children with disabilities
                                                                 requirements, but analyses of their
                    and their families.
                                                                 educational and economic impacts
                    The number of Minnesota students             are not available.
                    receiving special education increased
                                                                 Of the 45 Minnesota statutes we
                    11 percent between the 1999-2000 and
                                                                 studied that specifically govern special
Nearly three-       2010-2011 school years, while the
                                                                 education, 19 contain at least one
                    number of K-12 public school students
quarters of         decreased 3 percent in that period.
                                                                 provision that exceeds federal
Minnesota rules                                                  requirements. Plus, nearly 75 percent
                    The proportion of all public school
pertaining to                                                    of the 57 Minnesota rules we analyzed
                    students in special education rose
                                                                 contained provisions that exceed
special education   from 11.9 percent in 1999-2000 to
                                                                 federal requirements.
contained           13.6 percent in 2010-2011.
provisions that     Students must have 1 of 13 disabilities
                                                                 Regulations specific to Minnesota may
exceeded federal                                                 affect student eligibility, add to
                    to qualify for special education, and not
                                                                 responsibilities of school district staff,
requirements.       every student with a disability is
                                                                 or increase required documentation.
                    eligible. The largest proportion of
                                                                 They can increase costs directly, such
                    Minnesota students in special education
                                                                 as when state requirements have a
                    (27 percent) have “specific learning
                                                                 broader definition of eligibility. For
                    disabilities” (disorders affecting the use
                                                                 instance, state rules define eligibility
                    of spoken or written language). The
                                                                 for the visually-impaired disability
                    smallest proportion of students, at less
                                                                 category to include a student with a
                    than one-tenth of a percent, was in the
                                                                 visual impairment that “interferes with
                    deaf-blind category.
                                                                 acquiring information or interaction
                                                                 with the environment,” whereas federal
SUMMARY                                                                                                       3



                     regulations limit eligibility to those        To the extent school districts use a
                     students whose impairment adversely           portion of their general education
                     affects “educational performance.”            revenues or their referendum levies to
                     Other rules, such as those adding to          pay special education costs, they are
                     workloads that may lead to staff              said to “cross subsidize” special
                     burnout and low teacher retention rates,      education. School officials reported that
                     can affect costs indirectly. However,         they have had to spend money intended
                     detailed analyses are not available on        for general education purposes (such as
                     costs or benefits of Minnesota-specific       lowering general class sizes) on special
                     regulations and are beyond what could         education instead. Between fiscal years
                     be achieved in this evaluation.               2000 and 2011, the school district cross
                                                                   subsidy increased 40 percent in 2011
                     The Legislature should direct MDE to          dollars adjusted for inflation. The
                     initiate independent analyses of              largest per-student cross subsidies in
                     economic and educational impacts of           2011 were mostly in school districts in
                     any potential changes to state                the metropolitan area and regional
                     regulations, such as those that affect        centers around the state.
From fiscal years    district staffing levels. Such analyses
2000 to 2011,        are needed to help legislators make           The Legislature should consider options
                     informed decisions. Identifying which         to reduce certain school districts’
a median             state requirements to analyze should be       substantial reliance on general education
33 percent of        the Legislature’s prerogative. MDE            funding to pay for special education
special education    could contract with an independent            costs. Several alternatives can be used
revenue came         third party to evaluate costs and             for this, but nearly all involve additional
from school          benefits of any proposed changes,             state revenues. At the same time, MDE
districts, in a      including projected economic impacts,         should identify methods to help control
                     such as students’ ability to eventually       spending and assist districts in adopting
combination of       obtain employment. Results should be          appropriate methods that meet student
general education    reported to the Legislature for final         needs and contain costs.
revenues             decisions on changing state law.
generated by all                                                   School districts must pay costs of
                     School districts have diverted a              special education for their resident
students and local
                     substantial portion of general                students but have little control over
voter-approved       education aid and local operating             spending when resident students
levies.              levies to pay for special education.          receive services outside the district.

                     Revenues for special education come           When students in special education
                     from the state, local school districts, and   enroll in a district other than the district
                     the federal government. From fiscal           in which they live, the law requires
                     year 2000 to 2011, a median 56 percent        enrolling districts to plan and provide
                     of revenue was from the state; this           special education services, while
                     included (1) dedicated special education      resident districts pay for those costs
                     revenues and (2) a portion of general         that are not reimbursed by state aid.
                     education revenue that follows students       School officials we interviewed said, as
                     in special education. A median                resident districts, they are not
                     33 percent of revenue was from school         sufficiently involved in service
                     districts, representing a combination of      decisions for students in special
                     general education revenues generated by       education who enroll elsewhere. They
                     all students and local revenues from          viewed this as a disincentive for
                     voter-approved levies. A median               enrolling districts to control costs.
                     11 percent of revenue came from the
                     federal government.                           The Legislature should consider
                                                                   modifying laws that require school
                                                                   districts to pay special education costs
4                                                                                 SPECIAL EDUCATION



                          of students who enroll outside their        MDE staff said districts identify
                          resident districts. The Legislature         instances of noncompliance during
                          would have to determine the                 their self-review that MDE monitors
                          appropriate proportion of costs to share    would not. Further, MDE takes steps
                          and ensure that districts do not deny       to achieve consistency among
                          enrollment applications based on the        monitors. Yet district dissatisfaction
                          severity of students’ needs.                persists.

                          Confusion has arisen over MDE’s             MDE should evaluate its monitoring
                          system for monitoring LEA                   process to identify ways to improve
                          compliance with legal requirements.         special education teachers’
                                                                      understanding of compliance
                          MDE has a comprehensive system for          requirements. It should ensure that
                          assuring LEA compliance with special        teachers have the tools they need to
The Minnesota             education regulations, as the federal       comply with regulations.
Department of             government requires. Monitoring of
Education and             special education programs occurs on a      Several state rules on special
certain local             five-year cycle and involves districts in   education are inconsistent with
                          a self-review of their own compliance.      Minnesota statutes.
education agencies
                          MDE separately monitors local
have divergent            compliance with fiscal requirements. It     Some administrative rules pertaining to
views of the              offers LEAs training and other tools to     special education are outdated and
department’s              assist with monitoring and track            differ from state statutes. For example,
monitoring                corrections of noncompliance.               one rule states that if parents refuse
                                                                      consent for an evaluation of their
process.                  Numerous staff we interviewed from          child’s eligibility for special education,
                          LEAs voiced concerns about what they        the district may continue to pursue an
                          viewed as inconsistent or petty             evaluation by using certain procedures.
                          compliance decisions. For instance,         Statutes, though, disallow districts
                          some said they were told one thing by       from overriding written refusal of
                          one monitor but something different by      parents to consent to their child’s
                          another monitor. Teachers said this         evaluation.
                          interferes with writing compliant
                          documents; plus, correcting                 MDE should update administrative
                          noncompliance means holding                 rules on special education for
                          additional IEP team meetings,               consistency with statutes. MDE does
                          requiring parents and others to             not have general rulemaking authority
                          rearrange their schedules and               and may need explicit legislative
                          sometimes travel long distances over        authorization to proceed.
                          seemingly trivial matters. In response,


Summary of Agency Response
In a letter dated February 22, 2013, Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda
Cassellius called the evaluation report “valuable, fair and comprehensive.” She said the
department largely agrees with the evaluation’s recommendations. For example, she said the
Governor’s budget aims to reduce school district reliance on general education funding to pay
special education costs, as the evaluation report recommends. In another example, she wrote that
the department agrees with the recommendation to evaluate its monitoring process to improve
special education teachers’ understanding of compliance requirements. She said the department
has made a priority of “ensuring the availability of training” to these teachers.


              The full evaluation report, Special Education, is available at 651-296-4708 or:
                            www.auditor.leg.state.mn.us/ped/2013/sped.htm

				
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