OLA OFFICE OF THE LEGISLATIVE AUDITOR
STATE OF MINNESOTA
Evaluation Report Summary / March 2013
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.
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: email@example.com • 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
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
acquiring information or interaction
with the environment,” whereas federal
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.
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: