Tri-City United is joining half of the school districts in Minnesota in urging the state and federal governments to offset the costs of teaching special education, as was promised in 1975.

The TCU School Board, on Oct. 8, joined other boards across the state in passing two resolutions asking for the state and federal governments to address the rising costs of special education.

“The goal of these resolutions is twofold,” TCU Director of Business Services Jean Kopp said to the board. “For the board to be an advocate in the spirit and belief of the value of education for all and to hold our state and federal government to account for what was promised in the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act, also known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”

Kopp read that when IDEA was passed in 1975, the federal government “promised to fund 40 percent of the additional cost of educating children with disabilities yet has never provided more than 15 percent.”

The resolutions came from the Minnesota School Boards Association last fall.

“Last year (the MSBA) traveled the state and heard many school boards were frustrated that the cross-subsidy (for special education) is growing and continues to grow,” Associate Director of Government Relations at MSBA Denise Dittrich said.

The cross-subsidy refers to the amount of general education dollars that must be used to fund special education services. Dittrich said that the cross-subsidy for the state of Minnesota last year was at $672 million. The MSBA predicts that number will grow to $817 million by 2021. TCU’s cross-subsidy is $809 per student.

That means the balance of special education costs must come from the district’s general fund.

“We want to specify that boards are not frustrated about the fact they are required to deliver special education services, they are frustrated by the fact that the state and federal government has not funded those expenditures,” she said. “We value the special education program, but those services should not come at the expense of general education students.”

TCU Superintendent Teri Preisler brought the resolutions to the board, though Kopp presented them.

“The Minnesota School Board Association in partnership with Minnesota Rural Education Association, Minnesota Association of School Administrators and other education advocacy organizations developed these resolutions as a means to bring attention to our state legislators and federal government on the need to hold true to their commitment for funding for special education, which has not been the case,” Preisler wrote in an email.

Preisler suggested that one of the reasons there is a big effort for this funding now is that 2019 is a budgeting year for the state Legislature.

The ultimate goal is to bring the issue to the Legislature so that it can create a work group to consider the issue.

“There is no work group looking at how to sell the project for the long-term,” Dittrich said. “We’re hoping (the Legislature will) provide cross-subsidy elimination money. Right now, the number is so big that it can’t be done in one or two years, so we’re asking the Legislature to produce a plan to reduce it.”

Reach Reporter Ashley Murtha at 507-931-8572.

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